August 19, 2018 5:19 pm
Updated: August 20, 2018 5:33 am

Air quality in nearly a dozen B.C. communities ‘very high risk’ on Sunday

WATCH: Air quality deteriorates as wildfire smoke blankets B.C

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With nearly 550 wildfires still burning across British Columbia, air quality throughout the province continues to deteriorate.

On Sunday afternoon, the province’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) listed no fewer than 11 communities where the AQHI forecast was at 10+, or “very high risk.”

By Sunday evening that list had been revised down to seven.

  • Castlegar
  • Fraser Valley (East)
  • Kamloops
  • Okanagan (Central)
  • Okanagan (North)
  • Okanagan (South)
  • Whistler

Northeast and southeast Metro Vancouver, Nanaimo, Prince George and Quesnel remained rated as “high” on Sunday evening.

READ MORE: Breathing easy: How to avoid the long-term health consequences of B.C. wildfire smoke

Air Quality Health Index readings in B.C. on Sunday, Aug. 19.

Ministry of Environment

Under these conditions, it is advised that people avoid strenuous activities outdoors.

Children, seniors and people with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder are particularly at risk.

WATCH: Time-lapse video shows smoke turn day to night in Fort St. James, B.C.

On Sunday afternoon, the PurpleAir monitor registered fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels as high as 289 in Kamloops, 294 in Prince George and 426 south of Kelowna.

A safe PM2.5 reading is considered between zero and 50.

Virtually the entire province, with the exception of the extreme northwest, was also covered by Environment Canada air quality advisories or smoky skies bulletins on Sunday.

And every community in B.C. tracked by the AQHI was forecast to have a rating of “high” or “very high” risk on Monday, with the exception of Fort St. John, Smithers, and Terrace.

Most communities in the interior currently suffering from AQHI readings of 10+ were expected to drop to six, or “moderate” that same day.

READ MORE: B.C. wildfire update Sunday: Glimmer of hope in fight against 2 major fires

On Friday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry advised people not to evacuate their communities due to wildfire smoke alone and said the province was working with communities to set up clean air centres.

Air Quality Health Index readings in Metro Vancouver on Sunday, Aug. 19.

Metro Vancouver

She also advised people to stay indoors, use air filtration or seek out libraries, community centres or malls to get a breath of fresh air.

The widespread smoke has forced cancellations of events and activities across the province this weekend.

On Saturday, the Kamloops Heritage Railtour and Kamloops Broncos vs. Westshore Rebels football game were cancelled.

WATCH: Long term effects of lingering B.C. wildfire smoke


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On Sunday, the city’s Overlander’s Day was also called off.

In Kelowna, devastated organizers pulled the plug on the Apple Triathlon despite a year’s worth of planning.

READ MORE: B.C. wildfires map 2018: Current location of wildfires around the province

Flights cancelled

Meanwhile, smoke is also affecting travel. Numerous flights were cancelled in Kamloops on Saturday, though travel has since resumed.

“We are all looking for conditions to continue to improve, not just for Kamloops, but for all British Columbians, and especially the firefighters,” said Kamloops Airport General Manger Heather McCarley.

McCarley said flight operations are generally suspended when visibility gets worse than 2,600 feet.

On Sunday, the Kelowna, Cranbrook, Penticton and Castlegar airports also reporting multiple flight cancellations.

WATCH: Wildfires rage out of control across British Columbia

WestJet said it is offering a promo code for any travellers who need to change or cancel their flights in or out of the fire zones.

READ MORE: Smoky conditions, poor visibility affect B.C.-bound flights from Calgary

“We are monitoring the situation closely and recommend that anyone travelling to or from the interior B.C. check their flight status before heading to the airport,” said the company in a statement.

Exposure to extremely poor air can cause long-term health problems in up to one in 10 people, according to St. Paul’s Hospital respirologist Dr. Don Sin.

People who must travel or work outside may want to invest in a filtration mask. Such masks should have at least an N-95 or HEPA P-100 rating to ensure effectiveness.

Here’s how people on social media captured the hazy conditions on Sunday:

 

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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