Services needed to address more regular occurrence of severe smoke events / Letter to Whatcom County officials

October 18, 2022 Dena Jensen

Keep sharing the things you learn and observe with our officials that will help result in more and better services for our community members who are in crisis or are in danger of being so.  

Here is an email I sent this evening to the Whatcom County Council and the County Executive:

Sent: Tuesday, October 18, 2022, 05:31:04 PM PDT

Subject: Services needed to address more regular occurrence of severe smoke events

Dear Whatcom County Council, and County Executive Sidhu:

I have been watching the rapid increase today in poor air quality due to wildfire smoke. I am including a couple screenshots. 

This first one is of a post someone shared from their weather app today:

And this one is from a web location I was directed to by the Northwest Clean Air Agency (

I imagine you all may be getting reports from different staff and agencies in relation to these conditions, but I wanted to send along a link to this twitter thread that explains why we will likely be experiencing such smoke events on a much more regular basis.

The tweet was made on Sunday 10/16/22 by a journalist and former wildland firefirghter named Amanda Monthei and the subject was the last 6 weeks of smoke being experienced in Northwest Washington. In the tweet, Monthei describes specific features of the Bolt Creek fire and the strategy firefighters are using related to it. This part of the twitter feed seemed to offer key information on which to keep focused:

“And that is that the mgmt strategy used—a consumptive strategy, as it’s called—is a strategy that requires patience but has huge payoffs down the road. In this case, letting the bolt creek burn to US 2 on its own terms meant that the fire behavior was very mellow.

“This means that some ground vegetation burned but the larger vegetation that holds the slope together didn’t. Allowing it to burn itself out as it approached the road resulted in less intense fire than, say, if they’d burned off the road because they wanted a black edge ASAP.

“This strategy requires so much patience and people are understandably running out of it. But it will pay off, I promise. The slope above the road has vegetation that will keep it together once the rain comes, and US 2 will undoubtedly have less mudslide closures this winter.

“When I was working the Bolt Creek as an info officer, it was clear that the people employing this strategy knew what the long term benefit was and also just how hard it would be to maintain patience as they allowed the fire to move at its own (admittedly very slow) pace.

“But they also understood that this strategy produces smoke—and something I think everyone in the NW should be thinking about right now is how to prepare for more days like this next year and the year after.

“It’s easy to think this is a fluke year but without getting too deep into fire ecology and our history of suppression, it’s veryyyyy likely we will see impacts like this during most summers/falls moving forward. The time to prepare for that reality is right now.

“Proper filtration systems, air purifiers, N-95 masks etc are all good steps. Clean air shelters might be something we need to consider in places where people don’t have access to expensive filtration systems in their homes. Support for vulnerable communities will be essential.”

During the Council’s September 27, 2022 Committee of the Whole meeting, the Whatcom County Health Department Human Services Manager had responded to a question of Council Member Galloway’s about updating guiding assumptions to account for other severe weather conditions such as heat and smoke. The Human Services Manager had indicated that action wasn’t being currently taken because a larger portion of the community is impacted by that kind of severe weather. She did mention that she was talking a bit with other colleagues, but then also mentioned how few staff people there were to work on things. 

First, as I indicated to you previously, making sure there are enough staff members to address the needs of people in crisis is critical and should be a priority for you all to ensure are in place. Additionally, I don’t think that having more people being impacted by severe smoke events, for example, should preclude starting with something like activating a severe smoke event shelter similar to the winter severe weather shelter and, at the very least – working on the guiding assumptions to update them with information that would guide any facilities or resources that will be offered to the public as soon as they possibly can be. 

I also remind County officials, that besides individuals such as elderly and very young people, and those without homes, there are people being sent out to actually work under these conditions. I call for Whatcom County to offer support to the efforts of the City of Bellingham to establish an Immigrant Resource Center which can be one source of providing some severe weather event resources to Whatcom County residents. Additionally, as long as the State has not yet provided ample smoke and heat safety regulations, education, and enforcement personnel – for businesses like farms, food processing, and other outdoor employers – that will prevent workers from being exposed to dangers from such extreme weather, it is important for local government agencies to be reaching out to employers and at least providing that educational resource while you all promptly develop additional services and lobby for more action from the State.

I call on you to proactively and persistently communicate with your government agency staff, boards, and commissions, as well as your community members to keep things moving as quickly as possible to create resources to prevent people from being exposed to injury, illness, and potentially death due to a lack of such resources.


Dena Jensen

Birch Bay, WA

This email was sent to the following addresses:

To: <>; Todd Donovan <>; Kaylee Galloway <>; Barry Buchanan <>; Carol Frazey <>; Kathy Kershner <>; Tyler Byrd <>; Ben Elenbaas <>; Satpal Sidhu <>

Cc: <>; <>; G. CC. Immigration Board <>; Health <>; <>