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Wildfire Smoke Continues To Plague Central Wash. And Idaho

The persistent smoke from wildfires has gotten so bad in the Wenatchee and Ellensburg areas that county health departments are telling everyone to stay indoors if possible. Firefighters continue to defend rural homes and subdivisions on the east slopes of the Cascades. Containment of the numerous wildfires there appears a long ways off.

You've probably heard warnings before about how people with sensitive lungs should stay inside when there's air pollution. Residents in parts of central Washington have entered a realm where not just sensitive groups... but EVERYONE is being urged to stay indoors.

Chelan-Douglas Health District spokeswoman Mary Small says if you must go outside in the Wenatchee area, wear a mask.

"I see that there are many fewer people outside than we would typically see," Small says. "But I am still surprised at the occasional jogger, the occasional convertible with the top down, the occasional workman outside doing physical exertion with no mask."

Heavy smoke has also periodically grounded firefighting helicopters. Over the weekend, crews repainted one olive green National Guard chopper in a brighter paint scheme. That was the only way they could safely use it to make water drops given the poor visibility.

The weather forecast calls for stagnant air to last through the work week. The National Weather Service has issued an advisory warning that pollution from wildfire smoke could increase to dangerous levels. The advisory includes Lewiston-Clarkston, the Yakima Valley, Kittitas Valley, Methow Valley and Wenatchee River valley.

Idaho's Department of Environmental Quality has issued a similar warning about unhealthy levels of smoke in Custer County (Salmon and Challis, ID) and the central Idaho mountains.

On the Web:

Washington air quality monitoring tools:

National Weather Service air stagnation advisory: stagnation advisory

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Smoke from wildfires in central Washington and Idaho is prompting warnings. Photo by John Nelson/USDA-Forest Service
Smoke from wildfires in central Washington and Idaho is prompting warnings. Photo by John Nelson/USDA-Forest Service

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.