Watching the skies: Wind and wildfires

Though recent strong winds haven’t been much to brag about in terms of breaking any records, that hasn’t stopped the weather from posing a threat to local homeowners and fire districts. Smoke from lightning-sparked fires in areas of Central and Eastern Washington shrouded the skies over the Colville Valley last Sunday evening and Monday morning, causing some residents to experience discomfort from smoke inhalation. “It sucks, the whole being able to breathe thing,” says Thomas Howard, 24. “I had to close all the windows in my apartment (Sunday night).” Kim Austin was styling her hair in the bathroom of her home in Mobile Ranch Park in Colville on Monday when she heard a crash outside. “I heard this huge noise like something was coming down on the house,” says Austin. Nothing was coming down on the 75-foot trailer, but something was coming off, and in this case it was part of the roof. Austin’s boyfriend, Darin Cole, figures about 25 to 30 feet of the metal roof peeled off when a strong gust of wind hit the trailer, causing it to fall to the ground. The ceiling to the home is still intact, but Austin doesn’t have insurance. Thankfully though, Austin notes, no one was hurt.Fire threatens home on Kitt-Narcisse According to the National Weather Service Spokane Office, gusts in Colville on Monday were reported at 15 to 17 miles per hour. The highest gusts were reported on the Orin Rice Road last Wednesday, Sept. 5 at 49 miles per hour. That particular day saw a cold front sweep into the area, resulting in rain, high winds and lightning strikes near the Canadian border. Meanwhile, the Arden Fire Department, Colville Fire Department and the Department of Natural Resources responded to a fire on Kitt-Narcisse Road last Wednesday that was caused when wind blew a tree on to a power line. According to Arden Fire Chief Joe Paccerelli, the blaze was wind-driven and breached the first containment line that firefighters had set up to stop it. The fire was eventually stopped 100-feet from a wheat field that had yet to be harvested. A family whose home was threatened was evacuated safely. No one was injured and no buildings were damaged, Paccerelli said. The fire burned around 3.3 acres. It didn’t hurt that it started to rain that evening as well, says Paccerelli. “It was a pretty good gunfight,” says Paccerelli of the multiple crews’ attempts to fight the fire, which burned uphill. “Thanks to the coordinated efforts of the districts involved and the DNR, it turned out okay.” Though the National Weather Service’s website forecasts clear skies for Colville this week, Meteorologist Jon Livingston says that, ‘”Red Flag warning” for high winds and low humidity was issued on Monday for the Stevens County region. “The winds and lack of moisture in that area (Colville valley) aren’t what we would classify as excessive,” says Livingston. “But people should be aware of the weather change from what we’ve been used to in the past month.” Watch out for that smoke According to the Washington Department of Ecology website, the following are steps resident can take when faced with excessive smoke from wildfires: When smoke and fine particle levels are high enough, even healthy people may be affected. To protect oneself, it’s important to limit exposure to smoke – especially if an individual is susceptible. Here are some steps you can take: The Washington State Department of Health recommends that people who are sensitive to air pollution limit the time that they spend outdoors when smoke is in the air. Children also are more susceptible to smoke because: *Their respiratory systems are still developing. *They breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults. *They’re more likely to be active outdoors. Pay attention to air quality reports. The Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) is the tool that that the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) uses to inform people about the health effects of air pollution. WAQA includes information about ground-level ozone, fine particles and carbon monoxide. WAQA is very similar to the EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI). Both use color-coded categories to show when air quality is good, moderate or unhealthy. The difference is that WAQA shows that air quality is unhealthy when there are fewer particles in the air. Use common sense. WAQA and AQI may not have immediate information on conditions in your specific area. If it looks and smells smoky outside, it’s probably not a good time to go for a jog, mow the lawn or allow children to play outdoors. For those who have asthma or other lung disease, follow your doctor’s directions on taking medicines and following your asthma management plan. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen. If you have heart or lung disease, if you are an older adult, or if you have children, talk with your doctor about whether and when you should leave the area. When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors even though you may not see them.Turn air-conditioning units to “recycle” mode so they don’t draw in outside air. Don’t think that paper “comfort” or “dust masks” are the answer. The kinds of masks that you commonly can buy at the hardware store are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. But they generally will not protect your lungs from the fine particles in smoke. For more information, go to