Smoke from wildfires can be a health issue for many
By Ann McCreary
As the Wolverine Fire near Stehekin continues to grow, smoke from the wildfire is creating occasionally unhealthy air quality in the Methow Valley and has been visible as far away as Seattle and Missoula, Montana.
The fire started more than a month ago on June 29, but quadrupled in size last weekend, fed by high temperatures, gusty winds and low humidity. As of Tuesday the fire was estimated to be about 24,500 acres and continuing to grow.
The fire is burning in forests along the west side of Lake Chelan and has caused evacuations of Holden Village, closed campgrounds in the area, and required a detour of the Pacific Crest Trail.
As smoke from the fire has poured into the Methow Valley during the past week, bad air quality has made outdoor activity unpleasant in many areas and potentially hazardous for people who are sensitive to air pollution.
Sunday evening (Aug. 2), the air quality measured in Twisp reached “very unhealthy” levels as reported by AirNow, an Internet site that provides current air quality measurements around the world.
When air quality reaches “very unhealthy” levels, the entire population in the impacted area may experience adverse health effects, according to AirNow.
For residents of the Methow Valley who want to keep a close eye on local air quality conditions, a new application for iPhones has been created to provide current air quality information.
The app, called “Methow Air,” is available for free, said Raleigh Bowden, who helped launch the project.
Bowden, a Twisp resident, said she and a group of residents got together earlier this year to discuss concerns about air quality in the valley, particularly during winter when inversions trap smoke from wood-burning stoves and create unhealthy conditions.
“We called ourselves the Methow Valley Clean Air Project … our goal was to clean up air during winter,” she said.
State grant helped
Bowden wrote a grant application to the Washington State Department of Ecology, and received $3,000 to develop an iPhone app providing Methow Valley air quality information. The app was developed by local resident Brian Drye and became available for free from the iPhone App Store in June.
The grant from Ecology will also fund creation of signs that will be placed in Twisp and Winthrop during winter to inform people about air quality and let residents know when it is advisable to use alternative sources of heat rather than wood stoves.
Bowden is the founder of the Lookout Coalition, which assists people with aging and end-of-life issues. “A bunch of my patients are on oxygen … people really suffer from bad air,” she said.
Although intended to educate people about air quality in winter, the Methow Air app has proved useful during the current bout of bad air quality resulting from the Wolverine Fire, Bowden said.
“I use it on a day like today four or five times a day to see what’s going on, because this air bugs me,” she said on a smoky day earlier this week. The app can provide people information they need to adjust their outdoor activities if necessary, she said.
The app is linked to the Department of Ecology and provides air quality measurements that are recorded by monitors on the roofs of the police station in Twisp and the Forest Service office in Winthrop, Bowden said.
She said Methow Clean Air Project members want to seek additional funding to develop a similar app for Android phones, and to conduct a wood stove buy-back program to replace old wood stoves with clean-burning certified stoves.
Information about air quality and potential health impacts can also be found online at http://aqicn.org/city/usa/washington/twisp/glover-st/.