Summer fire haze a concern for some in Lower Yakima Valley

Summer fires around Washington state have created hazy air conditions for most of the past two weeks. And for some, the high number of pollutants in the air have caused difficulty breathing. Those whose breathing is already compromised by illness, such as asthma or lung diseases, are most susceptible to increased risks during the hazy overcast caused by the forest fires.

While conditions are beginning to clear as the forest fires are brought under control, those with breathing problems are encouraged to continue using caution when stepping outside.

As Yakima Valley harvest gets into full swing, those who suffer from allergies and asthma will be experiencing other breathing difficulties, according to local respiratory experts.

"We usually see the most cases of breathing difficulties during the winter months when the Yakima Valley experiences weeks of adverse weather conditions, such as fog, trapping pollutants in the air," explained Ismael Barraza, a licensed respiratory therapist at Sunnyside Community Hospital.

"We see most of our cases of breathing-related illnesses in the winter, but they can happen at any time during the year," he noted.

Barraza said summer forest fires, coupled with the normal amount of Valley farm work, also leads to increased breathing difficulties for those with impaired lungs.

Fortunately, the recent haze hasn't created any sizable increase in emergency treatments for breathing problems, Barraza said.

Nevertheless, those suffering from everything from allergies to lung disease are encouraged to continue to faithfully take their medicines.

"When people don't use their medicine properly is when they get into trouble," said Barraza.

Asthma and allergic reaction triggers such as smoke, dirt, pollen and mold all affect those suffering from breathing problems, so it is best if they take every precaution to stay indoors on days when haze or dust is at its highest, Barraza said.

"For example, windy Yakima Valley days are good days for those with impaired lungs to stay inside," he suggested.

"The pollutants in the air will naturally impact the air quality, but neglecting to follow medical procedures will cause the most damage," he said.

This past weekend's change in temperatures are helping to clear the air, and the lower temps are expected to continue through the week. But as preparation for the harvest of hops, apples, grapes and other Valley crops get underway, Valley residents can expect to see more dust in the air, as well as higher mold counts.

"Just remember to take your medicine before going outdoors. If you must go outdoors do so before the heat of the day and try to avoid areas where there is a lot of loose dirt, such as construction areas," Barraza suggested.

"Always check with your family physician if any negative symptoms persist," he said.

. Julia Hart can be contacted at

(509) 837-4500, or you can e-mail her at


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