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Okanagan socked in by U.S. wildfire smoke, conditions could improve by Tuesday

Click to play video 'Okanagan air quality a ‘very high’ heath risk due to smoke from U.S. wildfires' Okanagan air quality a ‘very high’ heath risk due to smoke from U.S. wildfires
Okanagan residents woke up Sunday to worsening air quality conditions as smoke drifted into the region from wildfires in the United States.

A special air quality statement issued for most of the southern half of British Columbia, including the Okanagan, remains in effect on Sunday as smoke from U.S. wildfires socks in the valley.

A smoky skies bulletin, first issued by B.C.’s ministry of environment on Sept. 8 for the Okanagan, says the most widespread impacts of the smoke from wildfires raging in the northwestern U.S., will occur on Sunday.

“Today the smoke is pushing northwards, and we are already seeing increased effects this morning and this afternoon, and into the evening,” said Trina Orchard, air quality meteorologist with the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

Read more: U.S. wildfire smoke: Environment Canada issues air quality statements for nearly all of B.C.

The air quality in most of the southern half of B.C. is off the charts as of Sunday morning, rated at a 10+, which is considered a “very high health risk.”

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The view across Okanagan Lake from Summerland, B.C., on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020.
The view across Okanagan Lake from Summerland, B.C., on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. Deborah Foley/Submitted

High concentrations of smoke particles have pushed the air quality health index (AQHI) from a 3-4 on Saturday in the South and Central Okanagan, or a moderate risk, to a 10+, or high risk, on Sunday.

Click to play video 'Washington wildfire smoke leads to alerts, health warnings in southern B.C.' Washington wildfire smoke leads to alerts, health warnings in southern B.C.
Washington wildfire smoke leads to alerts, health warnings in southern B.C.

The air quality in the North Okanagan was at 5, or moderate health risk, on Sunday morning, but the clearer air in the Vernon area isn’t expected to last long.

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The air quality is expected to deteriorate to 10+ by Sunday afternoon and into the evening.

There may be some reprieve from the thick smoke by Tuesday, Orchard said, but it will depend on weather systems rolling in.

The view of Okanagan lake from Kelowna, B.C., on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020.
The view of Okanagan lake from Kelowna, B.C., on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. Sandra Gault/Submitted

“Later in the day Monday and into Tuesday we may see some improvement, but that will depend on what happens with these ridges and the incoming low-pressure system,” Orchard said on Sunday.

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Read more: U.S. wildfires help make Vancouver air quality among worst in the world

“We could get a complete clear sky as that low-pressure system moves in, bringing some, hopefully, precipitation, which could help clear the smoke, but it is hard to say.”

Exposure to air pollution can be most worrisome for people with pre-existing health conditions, respiratory infections such as COVID-19, older adults, pregnant women and infants and children.

“It is a very high concentration of smoke moving at ground level today, so the advice would be to stop or reduce any activity if breathing becomes uncomfortable. If you feel unwell, stay indoors where possible if you find there is an improvement in air quality, Orchard said.

Click to play video 'Washington State wildfire smoke covers parts of Greater Victoria' Washington State wildfire smoke covers parts of Greater Victoria
Washington State wildfire smoke covers parts of Greater Victoria

The BC Lung Association is urging people with pre-existing lung and heart conditions to avoid outdoor strenuous activity and stay indoors as much as possible.

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“We want to make sure that whenever they stay indoors, that their indoor air quality is also good, and if they have portable air cleaners, to turn it on, or turn on air conditioning units in re-circulate mode,” said Dr. Menn Biagtan, a spokesperson for the BC Lung Association.

To sign up for the B.C. government’s air quality alert subscription service, click here.

For more information about wildfire smoke exposure and air quality, click here.