Washington state's Department of Health has shipped more than 20,000 face masks to central Washington towns blanketed by wildfire smoke. Air pollution monitors in Wenatchee, Ellensburg and nearby towns are consistently showing the air is hazardous to breathe.
The state health department drew on an emergency stockpile originally created in case of a swine flu epidemic. It delivered 10,000 masks to the Kittitas County Public Health Department and 12,000 more to adjacent Chelan and Douglas counties. Some of the masks are being handed out for free at a downtown Wenatchee restaurant -- McGlinn's Public House -- where server August Bendtsen says they going fast.
Bendtsen: "The air quality is just so severe. So I know everybody is just rushing out trying to get stocked up for friends and family and older people and anybody and everybody that they can."
Health officials say a face mask offers "limited" protection for people venturing outside in the smoke-choked valleys on the east slopes of the Washington Cascades. The best advice remains to stay indoors or get out of town. In Wenatchee, the Red Cross and a retirement home have also opened "smoke relief centers" for people who want to breathe clean, filtered air during the day.
Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network