'Unhealthy' air prompts stage 1 burn ban in 4 Western Washington counties

    Thick smoke north of KOMO Plaza

    SEATTLE -- A stage one burn ban goes into effect at 5 p.m. Monday in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties because of unhealthy levels of wildfire smoke. Health officials issued the ban to reduce any additional harm from outdoor burning.

    The ban includes barbecue grill that use charcoal, campfires or bonfires, fire pits, chimineas, fire bowls and similar free-standing device, and no fireplace fires.

    Natural gas and propane grills, stoves or inserts are OK.

    Air quality in some areas of Western Washington degraded from "unhealthy" to "very unhealthy," especially in the South Sound as wildfire smoke from British Columbia continues to pour into the region.

    As of noon Monday, a monitoring site in Port Angeles reported air quality particulate readings over 300, considered "hazardous" while much of the rest of the Puget Sound region was in the "unhealthy for all" to "very unhealthy" categories.

    Current Air Quality Map. NOTE: Department of Ecology officials say due to high demand, this map may not update frequently. For an even more updated map, go to the Dept. of Ecology air quality page.

    The Department of Ecology recommends that when air quality is in the "Very Unhealthy" category that everyone should stay indoors and avoid all strenuous activity. In Renton, officials closed the Henry Moses Aquatics Center Monday and announced there will be no lifeguards at Coulon and Kennydale beach parks.

    MORE | Health Recommendations Based On Current Air Quality Level Readings | Latest Smoke/Wildfire Info

    High pressure in British Columbia is blowing some moderately strong north/northeast winds out from the Fraser River Valley which is helping mix up the air quality a bit in parts of the North Sound, but also increasing the fire danger. A Red Flag Warning is in effect for Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish Counties, the North Coast and areas along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The warning means any wildfires that become triggered could spread rapidly.

    Elsewhere those north/northeast winds are only making matters worse, tapping into a massive plume of smoke from hundreds of wildfires burning in British Columbia and blowing it our way. It's also creating a hotter pattern with temperatures expected to reach well into the 80s amid the smoke, making for uncomfortable homes where no air conditioning means deciding between relief from the heat or relief from the smoke.

    Low visibility has also created delays at Sea-Tac Airport where air traffic management controls remain in effect.

    MORE | Check Your Flight At Sea-Tac

    It's considerably worse in Eastern Washington where several areas are reporting downright hazardous air quality readings. Spokane was in the hazardous air quality category with particulate readings around 400. Strong winds gusting to 20-35 mph are no help over there, and only exacerbating the wildfire danger there as well with Red Flag Warnings across much of central and eastern Washington.

    Relief is on the way! Eventually...

    The latest forecast projections indicate Monday may end up being the worst day with some slight improvement on Tuesday.

    Overall, this hot and smoky weather pattern is expected to continue into Wednesday, with air quality readings around Western Washington expected to remain in unhealthy categories until then. It's not until Wednesday night that an expected marine push will clear out the smoke.

    BUT! Long range forecasts are favorable for remaining in cleaner air through the end of the week and the weekend. Stronger marine breezes with will blow in the ocean air and knock temperatures down to the 70s on Thursday and Friday with a more traditional Seattle summer weather pattern of morning clouds and afternoon sun -- yes, actual yellow-tinged sunshine instead of the spooky orange version.

    It gets even better over the weekend as a trough of low pressure is expected to perhaps bring some scattered showers on Sunday to really clean things up. Highs by then might only reach the upper 60s.

    Long range forecasts keep conditions on the pleasant and smoke-free side into next week. I don't want to declare summer over just yet -- there are a few hints of warming again heading toward Labor Day, but it looks like for those yearning for a cooler, cleaner weather pattern there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it's obscured by haze at the moment.

    Meanwhile, firefighters in British Columbia are making some progress battling the hundreds of wildfires creating all the smoke. The BC Wildfire Service tells the Associated Press about 550 fires are burning in the province, but there weren't many lightning strikes over the weekend and that gave crews a chance to concentrate on some of the 54 blazes currently threatening people or property.

    POLL: Is the smoke making you feel sick? Answer the poll below or click here.

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