Health and fire officials are expecting the region next week to experience both a heat wave and, potentially, smoke from wildfires – a dangerous combination that could cause a spike in both heat stroke and respiratory illnesses.
The National Weather Service is predicting temperatures well over 100 during the weekend and early next week, which can cause potentially deadly heat stroke. Those hot conditions and accompanying drought could also lead to fires, though forecasters say the chance of brisk winds dispersing smoke all over the region aren't high right now.
Lisa Woodard of the Spokane Clean Air Agency said the region experienced some of the most hazardous air ever recorded by the agency last September, and urged the community to take precautions against the heat, and the potential smoke.
“The best rule of thumb would be is if you are in a home because the windows and doors need to be shut because the air quality is so unhealthy and you do not have air conditioning and it is extremely hot out, you need to seek shelter elsewhere," she said.
Woodard said if air conditioning is an option, it should be set to recycle air. People can also purchase an air purifier, or attach a furnace air filter with a merv rating above 11 to a box fan to clean the air in their homes.
Spokane Regional Health District Interim Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velazquez encourages people to stay out of the sun and avoid outdoor physical activities when it is that hot and drink water.
“A lot of people forget to hydrate. Hydrate doesn’t mean that you drink a gallon of water when you're ready to pass out. Hydrate means that you have a steady, constant ingestion of fluid that keeps you in natural balance,” he said.
Velazquez encouraged people to stay indoors if it is smoky next week, saying poor air quality can cause serious respiratory issues. He noted that masks that prevent the spread of COVID-19 will likely not protect you from toxins in smoke, and said staying indoors is the safer option.
Health officials say the masks may not help you filter smoke, but they will still be beneficial in protecting you from the coronavirus.
However, Washington Health Secretary Umair Shah thinks many will shed their masks when it gets too hot. He says he saw that in Houston, Texas, where he worked before he moved to Olympia last year.
“It was really tough during the summer to be able to get people to wear their masks because, you know, the last thing you want to do is put your mask on when you’re in the middle of a very hot day. And yet, if you’re unvaccinated, that is what you’re required to do to protect yourself and those around you," he said.
Shah says the heat wave is a good excuse to get vaccinated so you can shed your mask and still be protected from the virus.