These Paddlers at the Agua Verde Paddle Club on Portage Bay were among the first on the water when the club reopened on Thursday
Enlarge Icon
These Paddlers at the Agua Verde Paddle Club on Portage Bay were among the first on the water when the club reopened on Thursday
Credit: KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

Wildfire smoke is smothering Seattle’s summer economy

The cost of America’s wildfires—in terms of prevention, firefighting, and cleanup—is calculated in the billions. But living through the smoke of wildfires also has a cost.

People have discovered that cost in lost adventures, air filters and heavy-duty masks.

That’s a boon to the sellers of masks and air purifiers, but a hardship to people who make a living from Seattle’s beautiful summer weather.

Cruise ships, departing Seattle in the gloom. Cancellations of reservations on the Victoria Clipper (though the company says they were not enough to be concerned about). Argosy Cruises temporarily stopping cruises (though they resumed on Thursday). Incalculable numbers of vacation plans dampened, kid events canceled. Sporting events with the life drained out of them.

So what’s the true cost of forest fires on the economic life of the city? That subject is not popular. The Seattle Chamber of Commerce wished KUOW “good luck” on this story. And the local office of tourism did not return KUOW’s call in time for deadline.

Rey Lopez, owner of the Agua Verde Paddle Club on Portage Bay, tried to stay open as the wildfire smoke filled the bay.

“I went to see if I could find masks so I could hand them out to everybody who wanted them,” he said. When he ran out to hardware stores, he soon encountered the problem many people have been having here. “When I couldn’t locate any masks anywhere, I said that’s a sign, time to close,” he said.

Lopez said he lost $30,000 as a result of this week’s shutdown of his kayak rental business. And after that, there were more surprises. Paddle Club employee Mason Evans, for example, did not know he’d have to rake a wheelbarrow’s worth of seaweed out of the water before he could re-launch the kayaks.

“It’s never this bad.” he said as he deployed a garden rake over the water in the boat slips. “Usually we will just get a little bit, we can just pick it up. But this is an extreme case. We have a lot of what we call ‘slime’ here.”

Usually there's just a little bit of guck in the morning when the Paddle Club put the boats in the water. But having all the kayaks out of the water for three days because of the smoke changed that.

It’s been hard on everyone.

Angel Valentine was cooped up in the house with six relatives visiting from out of state. “The rain came and we were ‘Thank God, let’s go kayaking,’” she said. They were among the first on the water when Agua Verde’s Paddle Club re-opened.

But the losses may not be over yet. The fires are not all out: Smoke is expected to return when the wind turns around on the weekend.