Surge in wildfires around B.C. causing increasing poor air quality

·4 min read

While parts of the province are lighting up like a Christmas tree with wildfires the only threat Nelson currently endures is poor air quality.

Smoke in the air is expected to worsen this week as the wildfire situation around the province continues to escalate — including one “out of control” blaze near Winlaw — with a number of evacuation orders and alerts in place.

The current air quality in Nelson and surrounding area is mild — with the risk rising to moderate as the week moves ahead — despite the smoke travelling across the province from hot spots like Kamloops (over 100 fires currently burning).

The provincial total of wildfires this year has nearly reached 1,000 (at 942), but one third (303) of them have arisen in the last week as hot and dry temperatures entered its third week in B.C.

In the Southeast fire centre region — which includes Nelson — there are 57 fires currently burning, with only 11 in the region around Nelson and none within 30 kilometres of the city. The only “fire of note” — either highly visible or poses a threat to public safety — in the region is Beavervale Creek.

The fire danger for the Nelson area remains high, however, with small pockets of extreme further afield in the West Kootenay. According to the Wildfire Service, forest fuels in the region are very dry and the fire risk is serious, meaning new fires may start easily, burn vigorously and challenge fire suppression efforts.

This week there is no precipitation predicted for the Nelson, with temperatures again climbing well past 30 degrees for daily highs, and the relative humidity is low, around 16 per cent. The majority of the province is over 50 per cent relative humidity, with large northern areas over 70 per cent.

Where there’s smoke

If the air quality later in the week plummets, as predicted, the best way to protect from the effects of wildfire smoke is to reduce exposure by sheltering in place.

“There is growing evidence that exposure to seasonal wildfire smoke may have longer-lasting impacts on people’s health. Smoky air can make it harder for your lungs to get oxygen to your blood,” noted a Wildfire Service report.

“Fine particulate matter carries the greatest risk to people’s health because it can be inhaled deep into the lungs and cause inflammation and irritation. Smoke can also irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.”

The most at risk

People who have chronic and compromised conditions — asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, or diabetes, pregnant people, infants and children and older adults — can be the most affected by poor air quality, and the smoke can exacerbate an existing condition.

Breathing easy

There are some tips for breathing easier during the upcoming wildfire smoke events: reduce the amount of time spent outdoors; stay hydrated; and avoid rigorous outdoor activities.

In addition, exercising outside when it is smoky can also be a health risk for some people. The harder you breathe, the more smoke you inhale.

When indoors, keep the air clean (windows/doors closed, no smoking, no burning — fireplaces, candles, incense — and no vacuuming).

During smoky times, you can keep your indoor air cleaner by closing your windows, recirculating air through a forced air system and using an air cleaner.

You can also consider using a portable air cleaner that uses HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filtration to remove smoke from the indoor air.

For more information from BCCDC, visit: http://www.bccdc.ca/resource-gallery/Documents/Guidelines%20and%20Forms/Guidelines%20and%20Manuals/Health-Environment/BCCDC_WildFire_FactSheet_PortableAirCleaners.pdf

When in a vehicle, keep windows closed with air conditioning set to recirculate.

Visit places with air conditioning, such as shopping malls, community centres, swimming pools, public libraries, etc., as they often have cleaner, cooler air than smaller buildings or the outdoors, while following COVID-19 guidance for those communal spaces.

For those who require rescue medications, especially for respiratory conditions like asthma, ensure you have sufficient supplies on hand for when conditions are smoky.

If you cannot access cleaner air, some face masks can provide protection from wildfire smoke.

— Government of BC Wildfire Service

• Visit HealthLinkBC (healthlinkbc.ca), call 811 (non-emergency), see a health care professional, or call 911 (emergency) if you’re experiencing symptoms, including difficulty breathing and cardiovascular distress.

• Pay attention to local air quality reports and the conditions around you because smoke levels can change over short periods and over small distances.

• Smoky skies bulletins are posted here: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/air-land-water/air/air-quality/air-advisories

Learn more:

• Information on wildfire smoke and its health impacts is available from the BCCDC: http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/prevention-public-health/wildfire-smoke

• Air quality listed by region: https://weather.gc.ca/airquality/pages/provincial_summary/bc_e.html

• Updates on the wildfire situation across the province: www.bcwildfire.ca

• The road conditions: http://www.drivebc.com

• How to prepare for the advent of wildfires: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/preparedbc/know-your-hazards/wildfires

Timothy Schafer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nelson Daily

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