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The Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA) has issued a forecast for significantly poor air quality due to smoke from wildfires occurring in California, Oregon and Washington. Additionally, the National Weather Service (NWS) forecasted winds to shift from northeasterly flows to more southwesterly flows Friday, which brought smoke from the Oregon wildfires into western Washington.

In response to this weather pattern, Thurston County Public Health and Social Services issued a "Hazardous Weather Event" advisory to increase shelter capacity beginning at 5 p.m.Friday and extending through 8 a.m. Monday, Sept. 14.

"The current air quality in Thurston County is currently considered unsafe for certain groups, such as older adults and those with lung disease, asthma, and other underlying conditions. People who live outside are especially at risk, and we want to make sure there are additional places they can go to escape the smoky conditions in our community," said Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Director Schelli Slaughter.

County, city and local advocacy and non-profit organizations have been working together as the Hazardous Weather Task Force (HWTF) to address harsh weather conditions and the effects on vulnerable unsheltered populations. The HWTF developed the "code blue" model to be enacted during extremely cold or hazardous weather conditions. During a "code blue," organizations, including HWTF members, take special measures to keep people who are homeless safe by expanding shelter services to accommodate the increased need. In addition, the HWTF is empowered to distribute shelter-in-place supplies to those in the homeless community who are unable to leave their location.

During this hazardous weather activation period, increased overnight shelter options are available at Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter located at First Christian Church, 701 Franklin St, SE, Olympia. All COVID-19 safety protocols, including the wearing of masks and physical distancing, will be required.

Volunteers, as well as donations of masks, coffee, creamer, cup of soups, water and other snacks, are needed. Call ahead to the shelter to ask for details and drop-off information. For volunteer opportunities, visit https://www.iwshelter.org/code-blue.html or email Keylee Marineau at keylee.marineau@co.thurston.wa.us. For more information about homelessness in Thurston County, visit https://www.thurstoncountywa.gov/bocc/Pages/homelessness.aspx.

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