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caption: The SR 520 bridge disappears from view as smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon continues to blanket the area, on Monday, September 14, 2020, in Seattle. The air quality in the region has fluctuated between unhealthy, very unhealthy and hazardous. 
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The SR 520 bridge disappears from view as smoke from wildfires burning in California and Oregon continues to blanket the area, on Monday, September 14, 2020, in Seattle. The air quality in the region has fluctuated between unhealthy, very unhealthy and hazardous.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Relief from smoke, unhealthy air not coming Monday as expected

Western Washington will have to wait a little longer for relief from smoky, unhealthy air. The smoke-clearing weather that experts predicted for Monday did not show up, leaving unhealthy conditions lingering throughout the region.

In fact, instead of relief, more smoke is now expected.

"That's not how it was supposed to go," the Washington State Department of Ecology stated in a tweet early Monday. "The system we were counting on to bring us some relief has... not. The smoke is mostly still here, and light southerly winds are bringing more from OR at least through (Tuesday)."

As of Monday morning, winds were not moving into the area as previously predicted. And chances of rain for the area diminished. Air quality continues to suffer.

"Unfortunately, the system is weakening faster than we originally anticipated," said Dana Felton with the National Weather Service in Seattle. "And so, with the less chance of showers and the lighter winds associated with a weaker system, there's a good chance our smoke situation is not going to improve very much."

"...we don't really have any big system coming in to clean us out and shake things up around here, so we could be looking at smoke in the air at least into Friday. And, the winds aloft will be switching tomorrow or Wednesday and start coming up from the south, and that could pull up more upper level smoke into the area from the fires down in Oregon and California."

5 tips for limiting wildfire smoke in your house

What little rain could arrive Monday is not expected to be enough to help clean up the air or help with wildfires. There are more showers expected every day this week. Air is expected to be unhealthy and hazardous until conditions improve.

Meteorologist Josh Clark with the Department of Natural Resources laid out another possible scenario. He tells KUOW's David Hyde that it's possible the smoke will incrementally diminish over the coming week and will be mostly gone by Friday or Saturday.

“Stronger winds and an expected cold front that’s going to be passing through the region; we’ll see most of that smoke to clear out through the first half of the work week,” he said, noting that the current smoky conditions are an "historic event."

When will relief from wildfire smoke come?

When will relief from wildfire smoke come?

Western Washington residents should continue to avoid going outdoors as the air continues to be hazardous and unhealthy.

The Washington Smoke Blog also noted that conditions are likely to stay the same or get worse until at least Tuesday: "To add to our woes, light southerly winds will continue for another day at least, dragging more smoke directly from Oregon fires northward along the I-5 corridor. So even if the ubiquitous smoke pool from offshore starts to erode a bit, a replacement is en route."

Meanwhile, wildfires continue to burn across the West Coast, including 13 active fires in Washington state. They continue sending more smoke into the air.

The largest fires are in Eastern Washington near Omak. Heavy smoke has limited visibility and the use of aircraft to help battle the fires.

The death toll from the wildfires raging on stands at least 33. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes as destructive wildfires roar across the West Coast. That could lead to historic numbers of people turning to shelters in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan closed all city parks over the weekend in response to the deteriorating conditions. On Monday, that order was extended for another day. A city shelter to escape the smoke also was extended through Tuesday morning. That shelter is located at 1045 6th Avenue South.

According to the mayor's office:

"The emergency smoke shelter has capacity to shelter approximately 100 people and is operating 24 hours each day. The Navigation Team has conducted outreach through needs assessments, sharing information about the smoke shelter, making referrals to the smoke shelter and other shelter units, and offering transportation. On Friday evening, 21 people stayed at the smoke shelter, Saturday evening 51, and as of Sunday evening, 87 people were utilizing the emergency smoke shelter. The smoke shelter will remain open through Tuesday morning, September 15, at 10 a.m., when air quality is forecasted to improve."

The fires and poor air quality have prompted evacuations and emergency services throughout Washington state. The Northwest branch of the Red Cross reported that it served 2,396 meals by Sept. 10 as it responded to families in need as a result of the fires. By Monday, Sept. 14, the Red Cross had distributed 5,712 meals. It has also been housing more than 200 people in hotels during this time.

'Scorched earth, as far as the eye can see.' Washington wildfires devastate human and animal communities

It is estimated that about 5,000 people in the King County region do not have shelter. King County Executive Dow Constantine said Friday that the county would open a warehouse in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood. The warehouse was already set up to be a “Covid recovery center” with air filtration. It can house up to 77 people.

There remains a stage 2 fire ban in King County amid the ongoing unhealthy outdoor conditions.

Read the previous update on Western Washington's smoky conditions and wildfires here.