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Washington Fires Cause ‘The Worst Smoke Year’ In Memory, Says Scientist

A firefighter battles the Ponderosa Fire east of OrovilleA firefighter battles the Ponderosa Fire east of Oroville, California. REUTERS/Noah Berger

Wildfires are burning all over Washington state, covering much of it with a thick cloud of smoke that blankets everything below with ash, climate scientist Cliff Mass wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

Air quality and visibility in Washington state are the worst they have been in at least a generation, according to the University of Washington atmospheric science professor.

“The updated forecast for Seattle: ash flurries today with low visibility and cooling smoke shade,” Mass wrote. “This is clearly the worst smoke year in Seattle that anyone can remember.”

The Washington Department of Ecology tweeted a picture of the state almost completely covered in smoke.

Conditions are bad enough that schools have begun cutting classes short in Seattle or canceling entirely because of the smoke, the Associated Press reports.

The atmosphere around Seattle has fluctuated between “unhealthy” and “hazardous” by standards used by the National Weather Service. The air is expected to remain toxic until at least Thursday, according to The Spokesman-Review.

“We might start to see some noticeable improvement Thursday, but Friday will definitely improve,” National Weather Service meteorologist Ron Miller told The Spokesman-Review. “I’m not going to say we’ll have clear blue skies on Friday, but it will improve.”

Washington was surrounded by 11 major fires burning inside and outside the state Tuesday morning. These wildfires, along with dozens of smaller blazes, are to blame for the massive, rolling cloud of smoke covering the state, Washington’s The Spokesman-Review reports.

In Washington state alone, five fires have burned around 218 square miles. Over Washington’s eastern border in Montana, another five fires have burned an even larger area of about 319 square miles. One more fire in western Oregon has burned about 16 square miles, according to multiple media outlets.

Together, the 11 largest fires burning in and around Washington have covered an area 553 miles, nearly 40 square miles greater than the size of Phoenix, Arizona.

High temperatures and dry atmosphere in Washington created a favorable climate for recent wildfires, prompting Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee to issue a state of emergency Saturday.

Wildfires already incinerating the state combined with the risk of more popping up at any moment threatens to overwhelm Washington’s already strained resources, The Seattle Times reports.

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