Wildfires, poor air quality to plague western US as extreme heat persists

By Faith Eherts, AccuWeather meteorologist
September 08, 2017, 3:02:32 AM EDT

Wildfires in the western United States are increasing in number and coverage even as the typical season for wildfires comes to an end.

September usually marks the beginning of the end for wildfire season, when Pacific storms start rolling onshore bringing cooler, wetter weather to the Northwest.

However, dry heat is still well established in areas west of the Rockies.

“Extreme heat with highs in the 90s will settle over Montana, Idaho and Wyoming into this weekend,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

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While some thunderstorms formed over northern California and southern Oregon on Thursday, the rainfall was insufficient to quench wildfires.

As of Thursday night, the USDA Forest Service reports that there are 140 active wildfires in the U.S., spreading over nearly 2 million acres of land.

Both the fires themselves and the resulting smoke are causing problems for residents and visitors in the northwestern U.S.

The National Weather Service office in Seattle has reported that the smoke is so dense, ash is visibly accumulating on surfaces at times.

Very unhealthy air quality is forecast for wide swaths of the Pacific Northwest through the weekend, mainly in eastern Oregon and Washington, Idaho and western Montana where smoke is the most dense.

While everyone should avoid exerting themselves outdoors in these conditions, anyone with respiratory or cardiac health issues should take extra precautions when outdoors or in other areas with unfiltered air.

Poor air quality will combine with the persistent heat to make outdoor exercise particularly dangerous.

“If you do plan to spend time outdoors during the afternoon in these conditions, it’s important to take breaks and drink plenty of water,” said Doll.

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In addition to the unhealthy air quality, fires are directly inhibiting travel and tourism in the Pacific Northwest.

The Eagle Creek Fire in the popular Columbia River Gorge area in Oregon is one such incident, though many fires have resulted in widespread road and hiking trail closures.

Localized evacuations have taken place as fires threaten residences, in addition to the entire state of Washington being under a state of emergency as of Sept. 2.

While the forecast for the region includes periods of spotty storms, a widespread, soaking rainfall is not expected anytime soon.

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