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Northern Saskatchewan fires cause air quality concern

Watch above: The effects of wildfires in northern Saskatchewan are being felt province-wide as smoke drifts down. Meaghan Craig talks to the experts about air quality concerns and finds out what outdoor activities are being postponed as a result.

SASKATOON – A special air quality advisory has been issued for the entire province of Saskatchewan by Environment Canada and health officials say the heavy smoke brings with it some serious health concerns. The air quality health index remains in the very high risk range of 10+ as smoke from wildfires in northern Saskatchewan continues to blanket most of the province.

The smoke is expected to persist over the next couple of days as winds will remain from the northwest. There is little to no precipitation in the forecast, which would help flush out the smoke and haze.

On Monday as Saskatonians woke up for their work week, most say they could smell the blanket of smoke before they could see it.

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“It was such a smell, it was like you were right in a campfire, right beside you.”

“It’s weird that you can’t even see the buildings downtown.”

“At first, I thought it was fog but then when I realized it was the smoke and all the wildfires it concerned me obviously.”

READ MORE: Air quality advisory issued for Saskatoon, Prince Albert

Those at the weir, only there for a quick bike ride, jog or walk complained their lungs and eyes burned.

“I was expecting that it would get here but yesterday seemed to be OK and its devastating it makes my heart hurt for all those people who are coming here.”

A smoke-filled haze has settled in Saskatoon and across the entire province, as active wildfires burn in the north.

“There are a lot of active fires in northern Alberta and in northern Saskatchewan. Very, very active fires,” said Terri Lang, a meteorologist with Environment Canada.

“What happens is the smoke is carried into the upper atmosphere and if the winds are just right it will carry the smoke farther south.”

Watch below: University of Saskatchewan school of environment professor Toddi Steelman explains the current wildfire situation in the province and how climate change may be playing a role.

Which is exactly what has happened says the meteorologist. A yellow trail of smoke on this Environment Canada satellite image (below) shows just how far the smoke is spreading.

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“On the satellite picture we can see it as far south as into Kansas, that’s how far it’s travelled.”

smoke

Folks are forced to go inside for fresh air as opposed to out, which is where they should be according to health officials.

“Don’t go into a smoky room with people smoking, same principle. You don’t want to keep inhaling all that particulate matter sometimes you can get exercise induced wheezing even if you’re not an asthmatic so not a good idea but certainly going about doing your chores and not doing anything strenuous would be fine,” said Saskatchewan’s Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab.

Those most at risk are anyone with lung disease, according to Jill Hubick with the Lung Association of Saskatchewan. People with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease as well as children should be cautious.

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“Their lungs are smaller, their airways are smaller and they breathe faster so they’re also at risk as well.”

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health has also placed expectant mothers, toddlers under two years old and seniors with other chronic conditions as a priority during evacuations.

“If you’ve got shortness of breath, a cough, a wheeze, if your chest feels tight take your medication recommended by your health care provider so make sure your prescriptions filled this week and then if you’re not seeing any relief from those medications take action and that’s when you need to seek medical advice and emergency care immediately,” added Hubick.

Along with the smoke, some other dangers include the heat. Make sure you stay hydrated and use a fan to cool down since windows, doors and outdoor air circulations should remain closed.

While it’s business as usual at the airport with no flight operations impacted by the haze and the City of Saskatoon has opted not to close outdoor leisure facilities like pools, the University of Saskatchewan has decided to postpone campus recreational activities.

The Saskatoon Health Region (SHR) has issued a safety alert to keep both patients, clients, residents and employees safe (see below).