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Unhealthy, smoky air prompts health warnings, forces closure of Spokane pools

August 9, 2018

Smoky conditions closed Spokane’s free swimming pools Wednesday as tempreatures climed and wildfires continued to burn around the region.

The Spokane Parks Department issued a notification to users of the municipal aquatics centers Wednesday morning that the city’s six pools would be closed until air quality conditions returned to healthy levels. Readings at monitoring stations in north Spokane were in the unhealthy category Wednesday, with choking conditions expected to persist until Friday.

Due to air quality improvements later in the day, AM Cannon, Hillyard and Shadle Liberty pools re-opened for evening swim, but not lessons. The Comstock and Witter pools remained closed due to lack of available staff, according to a Spokane Parks Department tweet.

Fianna Dickson, city park spokeswoman, said staff would continue to monitor conditions.

“If air quality does dip down below 150, we can call in staff and open them up again,” Dickson said. Those interested in the status of area pools can call the aquatics hotline at (509) 625-6960 for up-to-date information on pool closures.

A Browne’s Addition Summer concert in Coeur d’Alene Park was also canceled due to the air quality and heat. According to an a news release, the concert, featuring the band Flight Risk, will be rescheduled for August 30.

But forecasters warned earlier this week that scorching temperatures mixed with a high pressure system over the area could mean lingering smoke from Washington and Canadian wildfires for several days to come. An air quality alert issued by the National Weather Service is in place until 10 a.m. Friday.

Bryce Williams, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Spokane, said that if temperatures reach their predicted high Thursday, they may tie with the 1898 record of 103 degrees. He said he doesn’t expect this week’s temperatures to surpass Spokane’s hottest temperature, 108 degrees on August 4, 1961, but they may get close to other recorded highs.

“We’re going to be flirting with the records across the region,” Williams said.

He said temperatures are expected to drop 15 to 20 degrees this weekend as dry, gusty winds move into the area. However, those conditions have led to a red flag warning going into the weekend, with winds and lightning threatening to spread existing fires and cause new ignition events.

“We want to encourage our citizens to take advantage of the locations provided to help them stay cool during this period of extremely hot weather,” said Spokane Mayor David Condon in a statement. “And we ask people to check on their more vulnerable neighbors who might not have air conditioning.”

Splash pads at the city’s public parks will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. to provide relief, said Dickson. Those water features can be found at 17 parks throughout the city. A map can be found at the parks website. The Parks Department urges visitors to use discretion when taking children and other vulnerable groups to the splash pads during extreme weather, Dickson said.

Cooling centers will be available at the city’s public libraries, open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and at the House of Charity downtown as well.

Heidi Roop, the lead scientist for science communication at the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group, said due to rising temperatures, dry water conditions and forest management, wildfire season is predicted to last longer than it has in the past. She said the number and severity of fires are increasing as well, which is influenced by a variety of factors.

“The overall trend for all of Washington and for the northwest is bigger and more frequent fires,” she said.

One of the fires closest to Spokane, the Angel Springs fire, burned more than 5,000 acres and destroyed four structures and 10 outbuildings over the course of a week. The fire, which started about 7 miles Northeast of Davenporrt, threatened 170 structures, according to a Eastern Area incident management team news release. By 3:30 Wednesday, the fire was 35 percent contained, according to a Department of Natural Resources Tweet.

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