West Coast wildfires lead to closure of Seattle campus

Smoke from wildfires in California and Oregon is expected to descend on Seattle, Washington, over Thursday night, triggering significant health concerns. AP Photo by Noah Berger

Northeastern University’s Seattle campus will close on Friday because of deteriorating air quality conditions expected overnight due to smoke plumes from massive wildfires across California and Oregon, said Dave Thurman, regional chief executive officer and dean of the Seattle campus.

“Out of an abundance of caution for the health of everyone on campus, we are taking the preemptive step of closing the campus until the air quality improves,” he said.

Washington has had smoky conditions over the last week due to wildfires in the state. But additional smoke from fires in the two neighboring states is expected to descend into Washington over Thursday night, triggering significant health concerns.

Hybrid NUflex classes will continue as normal. The shuttering of campus is expected to have limited impact on Seattle’s approximately 800 students and 50 faculty members since remote instruction is already available in order to reduce density and promote safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

New student orientation will also proceed as planned tomorrow, albeit virtually.

Thurman said the decision was made after receiving an emergency alert from Washington state’s Emergency Management Division on Thursday afternoon that warned residents of a “super massive cloud of smoke outside of California and Oregon. The wind is changing direction and it’s coming your way tomorrow. You have today to prepare.”

It further advised residents to stay home and offered emergency preparedness tips.

Northeastern’s campus is located in the South Lake Union section of Seattle and the majority of classrooms and offices are in a building that relies on a fresh air circulation system activated by temperature.

“So when the temperature gets warm enough, the building’s ventilation system will circulate the hazardous smoky air right into the building and into our classrooms,” Thurman said.

The region’s air quality is expected to improve over the weekend, possibly allowing the campus to reopen as soon as Saturday for classes and student study, he added. “We’ll make that decision on a day-by-day basis as we get new information from the state and Environmental Protection Agency air quality models.”

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu.