The smoke choking the Tri-Cities could get worse.
The Benton-Franklin Health District warned that air quality is likely to deteriorate to a “very unhealthy” level by Thursday.
On Wednesday, air quality in the Tri-Cities was slightly improved from a day earlier, but still rated as “unhealthy” for everyone by the Washington State Department of Ecology. It was the third day in a row of an unhealthy rating.
The National Weather Service extended its air quality alert for most of Eastern Washington and north central Oregon by 48 hours on Wednesday morning.
It now is in effect until at least Friday noon, when the weather service will reevaluate weather conditions.
Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland was seeing an increase in patients with lung disease arriving its main emergency room at the hospital. By 2 p.m. on Wednesday, eight patients had come in with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbated by the smoke.
High school football teams throughout the Tri-Cities were forced to move their practices inside Wednesday, the first day of practice throughout the state.
“Safety first,” said Kamiakin football coach Scott Biglin. “Unfortunately, we had to do what we had to do. But the kids handled it really well.”
The Kennewick High marching band also began practice Wednesday and the group moved indoors because of the smoky air. It is scheduled to march Saturday with Southridge and Kamiakin band members in the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo parade.
A high pressure system is pushing down on the region, trapping smoky air that has drifted into the area from fires burning in Washington state and from Canada, where fires continue to grow.
Thunderstorms could move into the Pacific Northwest on Friday morning, but they likely will be too far to the south of the Tri-Cities in Oregon to improve local air quality.
Instead, they raise the possibility of more lightning strikes in Oregon to start fires and gusty winds that could spread flames, according to the weather service.
When air is rated as unhealthy, everyone should limit time spent outdoors and limit strenuous activity both outdoors and indoors. Those recommendations apply to sports teams, the local health district pointed out.
People who may be sensitive to air pollution should be particularly careful. They include infants, children, pregnant women, people over 65 and people with chronic illnesses, including heart and lung diseases.
If the air quality drops to a rating of “very unhealthy,” everyone should stay indoors and avoid all strenuous activities, according to the Department of Ecology.
Air conditions should be set to recirculate and windows should be closed. Those without air conditioning that allows them to close windows should find somewhere to go with clean air, such as a library or community center.
With air currently rated as unhealthy, even healthy people may have symptoms such as dry eyes, coughing and sinus irritation. People who develop more serious symptoms, such as an irregular heartbeat or chest pain, should seek immediate medical help.
This is the second year in a row that fires burning in British Columbia, Canada, have inundated the Tri-Cities with smoke, according to the Forest Service, posting on the Washington Smoke Information blog.
The government in British Columbia declared a state of emergency with 566 wildfires burning. About 3,050 people have been told to evacuate and an additional 18,720 people are under an evacuation alert, according to the Forest Service.
How much of that smoke will reach the Tri-City area in the next few days is not known, according to the Forest Service.