SPOKANE, Wash. – The smoke is projected to move out of Washington this weekend, but officials said the air quality index may not change.

Strong winds pushed a thick layer of smoke across the Inland Northwest as wildfires continue to burn in British Columbia, Montana, Idaho and parts of Oregon. The National Weather Service issued an air quality alert at the beginning of August. Since then, Spokane’s air quality index became the fifth worst in the nation. Because of this, the United States Environmental Protection Agency said we are breathing some of the worst air in the country.

Fortunately, those strong winds that pushed the smoke into the area are expected to push the smoke out. Meteorologist Jeff Cote with the National Weather Service said Spokane should see a gradual transition through the weekend, with much of the improvement happening on Sunday. Cote did note this transition is not instantaneous. It will not be smoky and unhealthy one day then clean and clear the next. Cote said the smoke should continue to clear out after the weekend.

As for Spokane’s air quality index, unhealthy levels should drop down as the smoke clears out, but may still sit at the ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ category. Air Monitoring Section Manager Mark Rowe with the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency said “although strong winds are expected to clear out the smoke, it may also kick up dust in the area.” Dust in the area may still cause respiratory problems for people with allergies.

The revolving theme seems to be ‘slow and steady.’ Overall, both Cote and Rowe said yes, the smoke will clear out and our air quality index will drop down, but it is just a matter of time. As for the current air quality alert, Cote said it will be in effect until Saturday afternoon. The National Weather Center will then determine if another alert is needed.