Yep, that's wildfire smoke you're seeing in the air. In May

click to enlarge The view from the Inlander office was far less hazy to an iPhone camera than to the naked eye on Friday, May 31, 2019, as smoke from fires in northern Alberta started drifting into the area. - SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL PHOTO
Samantha Wohlfeil photo
The view from the Inlander office was far less hazy to an iPhone camera than to the naked eye on Friday, May 31, 2019, as smoke from fires in northern Alberta started drifting into the area.

It's only May and it's already hazy?! Yeah, we know. It's crazy.

But if you're starting to plan your climate change escape route north, you might want to think twice. The smoke we're seeing in the Inland Northwest is drifting from wildfires that are almost 1,000 miles away in northern Alberta, with air quality declining from good to moderate on Friday, May 31, in Spokane.

Canada's Global News reports that about 10,000 people in the province have been forced to evacuate due to 28 fires burning there this week, which have destroyed at least 15 homes. Dry and windy conditions were fueling the spread of the fires, the outlet reports.


While air quality closer to the fires was significantly worse, the air quality index in Spokane was at 58 as of 1:35 pm on Friday, and dropped to 57 by 2:35 pm (lower than 50 is considered "good" on the index).

That index means while the skies look somewhat hazy to the naked eye, the air quality is still acceptable, with health problems possible only for a few people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.

The Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency's forecast reports that current winds have blown the smoke down from the north, but with reduced fire activity and a change in the wind direction expected over the weekend gusts should "clear everything out on Monday."

At least according to recent records, we actually get "moderate days" pretty regularly. In January we had six of them, another six in February, and in March we had five, according to the most recent data posted on the air agency website. But those were caused by things like weather not providing very much ventilation on some days and vehicles kicking up dust after the winter, while what we're seeing today is from wildfire smoke.


A lot of things are influencing why our fire seasons are getting worse and starting earlier. But as we've noted before: Research shows that firefighting activities and increasing temperatures and dryer seasons due to climate change have contributed to a recent rise in fires.

For its part, Washington state's Department of Natural Resources is recognizing its role and starting to change the way it fights fires and prevents them. As for climate change, there are a slew of new laws on the books that Washington legislators passed this year in hopes we can prevent even worse impacts from a changing climate.

Still, seeing such massive fires up north in May is not necessarily normal. Global News reports that while there have actually been fewer fires in Alberta since March 1 this year than in the same time period last year, the acreage burning is significantly larger, with almost 1 million acres burned in the province since March 1.

If you're feeling a little down about smoke season seemingly starting prematurely, just remember this is still nothing compared to what we saw on days like Aug. 20, 2018, when the air quality index was in the mid-200s (very unhealthy for everyone).

click to enlarge Meanwhile, back on Aug. 20, 2018, smoke inundated the same view. - SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL PHOTO
Samantha Wohlfeil photo
Meanwhile, back on Aug. 20, 2018, smoke inundated the same view.

Exhibit: The Hanford Site @ North Spokane Library

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About The Author

Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...