Ash, smoke settle in for stay in Valley

Smoke and ash create a dramatic view of the sun as it sets over the Walla Walla Valley on Wednesday evening. Local residents awake today to a similar scene and a dusting of ash.

Smoke and ash create a dramatic view of the sun as it sets over the Walla Walla Valley on Wednesday evening. Local residents awake today to a similar scene and a dusting of ash. Photo by Matthew Zimmerman Banderas.

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WALLA WALLA — It’s beginning to feel a lot like … Pompeii.

Many area residents woke this morning to find ash from wildfires in Central Washington falling in the Walla Walla Valley.

“It’s falling out of the sky as we speak,” said Harvey Crowder, administrator for Walla Walla County Public Health Department.

Although the level of fire debris in the air is not yet worrisome, public health officials are advising very young children and folks with upper respiratory problems or heart disease to be outside only when necessary and “certainly not doing any heavy exercise,” Crowder said. “At least until we get some blow through, some kind of breeze.”

Air quality did appear to be deteriorating, but people in good health should be OK for now, he said. While no one is yet calling the air “unhealthful,” that could change any time, he added. “I can’t tell if this layer is high clouds or ash waiting to fall on us.”

A good breeze would be the best medicine right now, Crowder said. However, smoke and ash will remain trapped under the strong atmospheric inversions at least through tonight, according to the National Weather Service. A light wind is predicted for Friday afternoon.

At Walla Walla and Milton-Freewater public school districts, administrators today chose to stay cautious. Students were to be kept inside at all the schools for the day and after-school activities would be decided on as the day continued.

“We’ve fielded calls, parent have talked to various principals and to teachers,” said Mark Higgins, communications director for Walla Walla Public Schools. “They’re just concerned. There is this ash-like material falling from the skies and we want to respect those concerns.”

Milton-Freewater schools followed suit and was expecting to decide on sports and other extracurricular events by school day’s end, noted Superintendent Jim Reger.

Walla Walla’s Parks and Recreation Department is advising people who are at risk from the smoke and ash to not participate in outdoor programs, and will ask coaches to be on the alert, noted Director Jim Dumont.

For those worried about the health of their vehicle’s exterior, the best course of action is to spray the ash off rather than dry wipe it, said Mahlon Hazelwood, owner of O’s Hand Car Wash. “Most of it will blow off, but if it settles on the car, you don’t want that to stay on your paint. If it has a grit to it, it could affect the finish.”

But be sure to hand dry the car afterward, Hazelwood cautioned. “The hard water spots are worse than the ash.”

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