This can't be news to anyone: Washington state is besieged by wildfires. The blazes that have been depositing smoke into Elliott Bay aren't all local; wind patterns push haze all the way from California. With the entire west coast facing 2020's eleventieth massive disaster of the year, making recreation plans requires a little extra planning. Here's how to weekend during wildfires:
Consider Staying Home
You see those big strong walls and heavy glass windowpanes that make up your dwelling? They're doing major work keeping harmful smoke from your lungs. As bad as breathing this polluted air can be—causing irritation, worsening asthma effects—the Washington Department of Health notes that "early evidence indicates wildfire smoke exposures can make people more susceptible to respiratory infections, likely including COVID-19." Ah, the additive properties of the 2020 apocalypse.
Find the Flames
The fire map updated by Portland based Northwest Interagency Coordination Center shows the boundaries of the largest conflagrations and has daily updates from the governmental agencies trying to manage the blazes. (There's also a giant glossary of wildland fire terms, for those who want to identify a passive crown fire or learn the technical definition of containment.) Don't forget that this group only logs fires over 100 acres, meaning other significant burns exist. The crazy unpredictability of fire movement means the refresh button is your friend.
Assess the Atmosphere
Now you know where the fires are, but everyone within Seattle city limits knows that flames aren't the only problem. AirNow reports the Air Quality Index in a given location, which ranges from green (little or no pollution) to maroon (an emergency health warning). The WaSmoke blog collects local information, like the EPA Smoke and Fire Map, which can be used to scout out areas with better air (though, uh, pickings are slim at the moment). It's a quick way to see that, for instance, the Pacific Coast sounds breezy and clear in theory, but the beach air quality readings are about on par with Seattle.
Check the Roads
Highway closures due to firefighting efforts can occur swiftly, and the best way to keep up is the surprisingly personable @WSDOT twitter account.
A few quick reminders:— Washington State DOT (@wsdot) September 9, 2020
▪️ SR 410 Enumclaw & Sumner-Bonney Lake, SR 173 Bridgeport-Brewster closed for fire
▪️ NB I-5 Interstate Bridge from Portland-Vancouver full closure Sept. 12-20
▪️ SR 520 bridge closed Friday PM-Monday AM
▪️ I think you're terrific pic.twitter.com/f4vuogE9D5
This main feed retweets pertinent info from other good WSDOT accounts (like @WSDOT_East and @WSDOT_Traffic) and has a strong GIF game. Major closures include State Route 410 outside Enumclaw and parts of Highway 97 in the Okanogan; traffic alerts are also on this page.
Heading to Oregon? Tripcheck logs the many, many highway shutdowns there. Forest Service road closures can be harder to find (check the Olympic, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie, or Okanogan-Wenatchee FS pages), but state park closures are collected in one place. State Department of National Resource lands in Eastern Washington—like around Yakima Canyon—were shut down to recreation earlier in the week.
With a forecast for even worse smoke plumes from Oregon and Washington, this might not be an ideal weekend to go hiking or boating. Road tripping could mean getting stuck at a highway closure or in a spot without power. And if you're camping—we don't have to tell you that campfires are absolutely verboten, do we? Like, legally? Just to be clear: no fires, no fireworks, no errant cigarettes. Here's hoping firefighters and the weather are able to to end this fire emergency so we can move on to whatever plague of locusts 2020 sends us next.