The threat of wildfires has led to a Type II burn ban for unincorporated areas of Island County as smoke from other areas of Washington state turn blue skies a brownish gray.
Meanwhile, an air quality alert was issued Thursday morning into Friday night by the National Weather Service, but was extended through 11 a.m. Monday.
The county’s burn ban went into effect Wednesday morning as hot, dry weather around Whidbey Island increased the fire danger.
No outdoor burning is allowed, even with a permit, according to Island County Sheriff Rick Felici. No recreational fires, no fireworks, and no outdoor burning of any kind is allowed during a Type II burn ban. Barbecue grills that use propane or briquettes and self-contained camp stoves are OK.
There is a level 3 burn ban in place at Deception Pass State Park, which means no charcoal or wood fires are allowed. Self-contained camping stoves and portable propane fire pits are allowed in the park.
Although smoke has filled the skies around the island, the Northwest Clean Air Agency said that the air quality in Oak Harbor was “good” as of Thursday afternoon. The state Department of Ecology air quality map gave Oak Harbor a score of 55, which places it in the “moderate” category. The scale goes from 1-500, with anything above 101 considered unhealthy to varying degrees.
Smoke from fires in Eastern Washington, the Cascade foothills and the Southwest Washington crept over Whidbey Island Thursday. Winds are expected to blow more smoke from the fires in Oregon over the island this weekend.
Calmer winds and cooler nighttime temperatures that allow the smoke to settle are expected to make conditions worse.
South Whidbey Fire/EMS Chief Rusty Palmer cautioned people with breathing conditions to stay inside with the doors and windows closed.
“Stay out of the smoke — it really does affect people. When you can see smoke, that means there are big chunks of particles in the air that you can see,” and they can cause issues for people with certain respiratory conditions, Palmer said.
Though Palmer doesn’t have any breathing conditions himself, he said, “my eyes are burning today.”
The South Whidbey fire chief said that there had been a few small fires recently, but that the South End tends to stay a little wetter than Central and North Whidbey.
Palmer cautioned that the long, sunny days with low humidity can suck the moisture out of the environment and change conditions.
North Whidbey Fire and Rescue responded to three fires in the past week, according to Fire Chief John Clark.
One fire was caused by a car crash, one started when someone was illegally burning trash and it “got away from them,” and the third was undetermined but likely accidental, Clark said.
Besides adhering to the burn ban, people can also limit the fire danger by properly disposing cigarette butts and being careful about where they park their cars.
“The grass is really dry and catalytic converters or the engine can ignite it,” Clark said.
Approximately 330,000 acres burned on Labor Day in Washington state, according to the governor’s office.
“That produces a lot of smoke and it needs to go somewhere,” Clark said.
Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue crews were called in to help with fires in Thurston, Douglas and Okanogan counties this past week.