UPDATE – Mount Rainier invisible as smoke fills our skies – Eatonville air is officially “very unhealthy” – Legislators weigh in

By Bruce A. Smith

UPDATE, Wednesday, August 15, 2018, 3 pm

2nd LD Representative Andre Barkis has responded to a series of questions from the Mountain News concerning the current unhealthy air conditions, and long-term timber management practices to control the increasing number of forest fires. The questions are posted at the end of the article, while Rep. Barkis’ comments follow below:

**********

Hello Bruce:

I wish I could give you a simple answer to how we can go about controlling these fires and the smoke that is inundating our area. I am afraid nature has more to say about this then I do.

I know we discussed the burns on JBLM. I am not aware that they are doing any controlled burns at this time. I would believe that with the severe air quality issues we are facing in the region they would hold off on any and all planned burns. As far as accidental fires on the JBLM property, that is a constant threat in the same manner it is anywhere in our region due to the extreme dry conditions and the amount of “fuel ” our forests and areas have that is conducive to fires.

The smoke we are once again experiencing is coming mainly from the fires in Eastern Washington and British Columbia. There are more than 60 fires burning in our region. When we get into these heat lows the air current pulls the smoke down the Frasier river valley right into Puget sound basin. Until the air pattern changes, which I hear might be this weekend we are flooded with the smoke.

These days of fire and smoke always coincide with our driest time of the year. In the last three years we have had this same pattern of drier and hotter than normal summers(August)

I know that there has been a lot of discussion and push from the various state entities to demand better management of our public forests, both State and Federal. I do not know what the situation is in Canada, but I imagine it is similar. Our public forests have not been well managed which has made them more susceptible to these type of significant fire events that we have seen and will see in the future if they are not maintained. The current administration at DNR is doing a better job recognizing and addressing this issue.

Up until last week we were thankfully being spared significant fires in the region and the resulting smoke. Last weekend(Friday- Sunday) a low pressure system came in bringing much needed rain and cooler temperatures but unfortunately also Lightning.  The storms sparked many fires in the northwest region, several of significant size. The result is the smoke that poured in over the last few days.

I will continue to advocate for better forestry practices by our State. I suggest you contact JBLM ( you probably already have) and inquire about their burns and status. You can file a complaint or better yet reach out to Congressman Hecks office as it is a Federal installation.  I would not support a class action law suit against JBLM as it is again a federal issue and also I do not believe the significant source of the poor air we are experiencing due to the fires.

Let’s hope the weather changes and the smoke dissipates soon.  I know the effects personally, and the effects on my own family.

Thank you for reaching out to me.

In service,

Andrew K Barkis

State Representative 2nd District

360-786-7824

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Original post on the smoke and air, published Tuesday, August 14, 2018:

Eatonville residents were treated to a rare view on Tuesday, August 14 – Mount Rainier was invisible even though the sun was shining without a cloud in the sky. The culprit: smoke from regional forest fires.

It is believed that this current inundation of smoke is due mainly to a sudden eruption of numerous large fires on the eastern slopes of the Cascades, ignited by lightning strikes that accompanied the rains of Saturday and Sunday in Western Washington.

This post will be updated over the next few hours and days as more information becomes available on the smoke, weather forecasts, and health concerns.

In the meantime, fires are burning at historic levels in California, Montana, and elsewhere, adding to the particulate loads in the atmosphere from Eastside blazes and other local burns. As recently as last week, Joint Base Lewis and McChord was reportedly burning segments of its wildlands as part of its timberland management program, a process that has angered and sickened many area residents for years.

Air quality on the Eastside is “atrocious,” to use the adjective uttered by one resident, and official “WAQA” (Washington Air Quality) readings for skies east of the Cascades are in dangerous unhealthy levels of 200-300, with conditions worsening. A late-night mobile reading near Moses Lake read 304, a “hazardous” level.

Mid-day local readings for the Puget Sound Basin were at “unhealthy” levels, such as the 168 reading posted in Puyallup at noon today, and a “very unhealthy” 228 at midnight. A WAQA reading for healthy air is 0-50.

WAQA monitors all types of impediments to air quality. Smoke contributes most of the most noxious elements of pollution, such as “particulate matter,” which are teeny bits of ash, grit, and unburned wood. These contaminants can cause serious lung disorders by inflaming tissue and introducing diseases in the human airway as bacteria, viruses, and fungi “piggyback” on the tiny bits of particulate matter. To counter these irritants, health officials recommend using a filter mask, especially the N-95 mask available at most hardware stores for less than $10.

Other contaminants in smoke can be gaseous “aerosols,” or the chemical fumes produced by the burning of wood. Additionally, these gases can form dangerous acidic compounds in the sky as they combine with moisture and other pollutants, and are thought to be the main source of the irritating “haze” that has pestered our skies and lungs over the past few weeks. These aerosols are believed to be emanating from the huge fires of California because the extreme heat of those forest fires – often over 1,000 degrees – drives the gases high into the atmosphere, where they can drift for hundreds of miles.

Besides particulates, WAQA stations pay close attention to the formation of these gases, specifically ozone, another by-product of high-heat wood burning.

Below are pictures of Mount Rainer, taken today by Julie G. at 2 pm from downtown Eatonville.

Smoke, 8. 14. 18, Eatonville, flag, Julie

Smoke, 8. 14. 18, Eatonvlle, art shop

Normally, Mount Rainier would be visible in this picture. It is only 40 miles away, yet the smoke from numerous local and regional fires obscures it.

Mt. Rainier, September 27, 2009 011

Mount Rainier, as seen from Pulford Road in northern Eatonville, on a typically clear day. Picture taken on September 27, 2015.

Update, Tuesday evening, August 14:

The following email has been sent to the 2nd Legislative District legislators: Representatives Andrew Bakis and JT Wilcox, and Senator Randi Becker.

Greetings 2nd LD legislators,

We seem to be losing our ability to control forest fires and the smoke they create. Today, Mount Rainier was invisible from downtown Eatonville.

We discussed this issue at length last summer so, I ask you now:

1. What is your official comment now on controlling fires and the threat of smoke to healthy living in the 2nd LD?

2. What have you done to improve public health and safety since last summer when we had 22 days of unhealthy air out of the 44 days running from August 1 until mid-September?

3. What needs to be done to control the burns at JBLM? They continue to let unplanned fires burn themselves out in ordnance and live-shooting ranges, and the controlled burns for habitat management seem to continue despite their assurances that these programs are being conducted in a safe manner?

4. Will you support a class-action suit against JBLM regarding their burn practices in order to maintain public safety? If not, why not?

Thank you,

Bruce A. Smith
The Mountain News-WA
Eatonville, WA

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9 Responses to UPDATE – Mount Rainier invisible as smoke fills our skies – Eatonville air is officially “very unhealthy” – Legislators weigh in

  1. This is the second year in a row that wildfires have raised the index over 200 in many areas of Western Washington. And when you look at the maps and the GOES images and the current wildfires map for the Western US and Canada…I wonder if we’re self-creating the world Cormac McCarthy envisioned in his book, The Road:

    “A father and his young son journey across post-apocalyptic America some years after an extinction event. Their names are never revealed in the story. The land is covered with ash and devoid of life…”

    McCarthy makes no references to HOW this all happened, but neither does he make any mention of radiation, nuclear weapons, danger from fallout, etc. Everything is simply BURNED UP. These continually increasing wildfires also accelerate climate change, i.e. the worse it gets, the FASTER it gets worse. I wonder if there will be any end to it all. If these fires continue to increase in size, frequency, and intensity each year…not only will they start to reach major cities, but they will eventually go beyond the ability of human beings to control them. The really scary thing is if you Google maps showing the existing wildfires not only in the USA and Canada, but around the world.

  2. A quick reference: David Wallace-Wells’ 2017 article for the New York Magazine, ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’, which became their most-read article in history. It has to do with fires, melting, climate change, and will scare the socks off you. It came under immediate criticism from some sources, but people like Jim Hensen at Weather Underground supported it, as well as other climatology experts: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans-annotated.html

    • brucesmith49 says:

      Thank you, Robert, this is an important and vital link. I encourage everyone to review it. You may be relieved to know that many Mountain News readers, particularly those students in Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, are well-aware of these catastrophic predictions and are actively preparing to meet those challenges. In fact, it is why I and many others moved to the Pacific Northwest.

  3. karelina resnick says:

    The base sets fires to retain the prairie habitat. But, here’s what the base said about the current fire:

    “Joint Base Lewis-McChord
    July 18, 2015 ·
    UPDATE: We’d like to reiterate that the recent smoke is not the result of a prescribed (planned fire), it is from an unplanned fire that has been burning in the artillery impact area for several weeks. Impact area fires cannot be extinguished by conventional means, due to unexploded ordnance hazards – instead, we have to wait for them to burn themselves out.”
    See: https://www.facebook.com/lmfes/posts/for-those-asking-us-about-the-smoke-in-the-area/1098089480205601/

  4. brucesmith49 says:

    Hmmm, Karelina, the JBLM post is dated July 18, 2015.

    I have written extensively on past fires at JBLM, especially last summer when we had 22 days of unhealthy air form August 1 until September 15, and they seem to come in three varieties:

    1. Unplanned fires along roadways from traffic and commuters, ie: cigarette butts, etc.
    2. Unplanned fires in ordnance or live-shooting ranges as bullets or bomb fragments hit a rock and causes sparks, which then ignite a fire.
    3. Planned fires for habitat management.

    I have been told by officials at both the Graham Fire Department and the South Pierce Fire Department that JBLM occasionally has fires “get away from them,” despite all the controls they claim are in place, or the valiant efforts of their fire crews to extinguish the flames. This includes their controlled-burn program.

  5. rthurs666 says:

    Yesterday and today were so bad, I had trouble breathing. Went to a meeting and regretted not having brought my portable oxygen system.

  6. brucesmith49 says:

    I hope you will get better soon, Richard. I carry a dual-stage respirator everywhere I go.

  7. I sent JBLM a message via Facebook. I told them their ‘controlled burns’ only added to the climate change problem and suggested instead of letting fires burn themselves out, as they sometimes do, that they just do some water air drops instead. Maybe they could draw from American Lake or something.

  8. Well, the smoke has drifted into Minnesota…we now have a air-quality alert for the weekend:(

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