Here comes the smoke: Health officials tell B.C. to prepare for new ‘5th season’

Click to play video: 'Wild fire smoke darkens Prince George sky'
Wild fire smoke darkens Prince George sky
WATCH: (Aug. 2018) Wildfire smoke darkens Prince George sky – Aug 17, 2018

Move over autumnal equinox, there’s a new season in town.

That’s the somewhat cheeky message from the BC Centre for Disease Control, which is advising British Columbians to be ready to protect themselves from the potential harmful effects of worsening air quality as wildfires begin to flare up once again.

The agency has created a new hub with health information for residents, with fact sheets on health concerns, air cleaners and tips on how to prepare for the anticipated smoke.

“​In addition to spring, summer, fall and winter, B.C. has added a fifth season to its calendar — wildfire season,” states the site.

“And with the month of May now in full swing, fires are already burning in parts of the province.”

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Sarah Henderson, a senior environmental health scientist at the BCCDC, says with annual smokey summers becoming a reality, British Columbians will need to be prepared to protect their health.

“Every single year we do have to expect smoke, and in some years that smoke is going to be severe and the way it has been in 2017 and 2018,” she said.

“Previously we’d have these very mild summers with very little smoke and I’m not sure that we’ll go back to those times.”

British Columbia has had three record-breaking wildfire seasons in the last four years.

Last year, the fires led to a never-before-seen 22-day air quality advisory in Metro Vancouver, and saw three B.C. communities in the top 15 worldwide for poor air quality.

During a stretch last summer, smoke was so thick in Prince George that skies were darkened in the middle of the day.

Henderson said researchers are only beginning to study the long-term health impact of exposure to wildfire smoke, but that health officials believe the risks are real.

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In particular, she said people with chronic conditions — especially heart and lung diseases — should limit exposure.

WATCH: Researchers gather to study lingering effects of wildfire smoke

Click to play video: 'Researchers gather to study lingering effects of wildfire smoke'
Researchers gather to study lingering effects of wildfire smoke

Seniors, pregnant women, infants and children are also at risk, she said.

“We do believe that those exposures may have impacts on foetuses in utero, and that that could result in lifelong health consequences for a small number of babies. So we really want pregnant women to protect themselves,” she said.

“We want people to protect infants when it’s smoky outside in that neonatal stage between being in the womb and being in the real world. Infant lungs are incredibly sensitive.”

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Henderson said the agency plans to roll out 13 one-page fact sheets in the months to come.

As of Wednesday, B.C. had already recorded 175 wildfires in the 2019 season, burning just under 1,800 hectares.

Crews were working on two significant “wildfires of note,” the 400-hectare Richter Creek wildfire near Osoyoos and the 236-hectare Lejac wildfire near Fraser Lake.

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