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Air quality deteriorates in Okanagan while Kamloops rating hits 10 + as wildfires rage

Click to play video: 'Smoky skies bulletin issued for Okanagan' Smoky skies bulletin issued for Okanagan
WATCH: So far the Okanagan has not been the epicenter of B.C.'s wildfire emergency but the area is starting to feel the impact as smoke blankets the region. – Jul 4, 2021

Air quality is deteriorating in the Okanagan Valley and Kamloops hit a 10 + on the air quality health index (AQHI) as wildfires rage in B.C.’s southern interior.

The smoke is so thick in the Kamloops area, the epicentre of the current wildfire fight in B.C., that the air quality is nearly off the charts and considered a high health risk.

Residents in the Thompson and Fraser Nicola regions are urged to limit outdoor strenuous activity. Children and the elderly are also encouraged to avoid exercise outdoors.

Read more: How to prepare for a wildfire evacuation and what to do if one happens

The situation is far better in the Okanagan, where there are no major wildfires burning as of July 4, but the presence of smoke is undeniable.

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The air is hazy and the smell of smoke is strong in many Okanagan communities. A smoky skies bulletin was extended to include the Okanagan Valley on Sunday.

Click to play video: 'Preparing an emergency kit in case of wildfire' Preparing an emergency kit in case of wildfire
Preparing an emergency kit in case of wildfire – Jul 4, 2021

“We know that there is smoke in the area, it’s just not on the ground and in significant enough concentrations right now that is bringing that AQHI number up, however, we wanted people to be aware that there is smoke in the area and we can smell it and it is a serious health concern,” said Gavin King, an air quality meteorologist with the ministry of environment and climate change.

B.C.’s ministry of environment and climate change issued a smoky skies advisory for a large swath of the B.C. Interior and northeast areas of the province on Sunday, July 4,2021. Courtesy: Ministry of Environment & Climate Change

The AQHI is pegged at 3, or low risk, in Kelowna, Penticton and Vernon but is expected to increase to a 4, or moderate health risk, by Sunday afternoon.

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Read more: Cause of Lytton, B.C., wildfire not yet known, resident saw train brake then smoke rise

“We ask people to be careful and be aware of how their body is responding. It’s going to put your body under stress, It might give you a sore throat or sore eyes or a headache and people should take health precautions such as leaving the smoke if they can, going to an air-conditioned area,” King said.

The ministry of environment’s smoky skies bulletin includes regions such as 100 Mile, Arrow Lakes-Sloacn Lake, the B.C. South Peace River, Boundary, Okanagan, Chilcotin, East Columbia, East Kootenays, Fraser Canyon, Nicola, Thompson, Shuswap, Similkameen and Willston.

Click to play video: 'B.C. Wildfire Service awaiting additional resources from back east' B.C. Wildfire Service awaiting additional resources from back east
B.C. Wildfire Service awaiting additional resources from back east – Jul 3, 2021

“Wildfire smoke is a natural part of our environment, but it is important to be mindful that exposure to smoke may affect your health,” the advisory stated.

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“People with pre-existing health conditions, respiratory infections such as COVID-19, older adults, pregnant women and infants, children and sensitive individuals are more likely to experience health effects from smoke exposure.”

Read more: Invermere pelted by hail despite raging wildfires, smoky skies in other regions of B.C.

Environment Canada said the smoke isn’t going to lift any time soon.

‘The smoke will stick around in the Okanagan for the next several days,” said meteorologist Jonathan Bau.

“The pattern right now is fairly stagnant with very little flow aloft. By Wednesday, an upper trough is forecast moving through the southern interior, and that will bring some rain and unfortunately a chance of thunderstorms as well.”

Click to play video: 'Crews begin to assess Lytton devastation' Crews begin to assess Lytton devastation
Crews begin to assess Lytton devastation – Jul 3, 2021

King also warned that residents and visitors to the B.C. Interior should expect a long, hot and smoky summer.

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“It is going to continue. This is a very very dry year and we have a lot of fires that have started and there is no sign that it is going to change this season,” he said.

King said weather watchers can only hope for rain.

Read more: More evacuations in B.C. Interior as crews battle 175 wildfires around the province

“Any rain is going to help because it almost literally washes the smoke out of the air so if you have some nice showers that roll through, it will really dampen that smoke.”

Metro Vancouver, meanwhile, says things look promising for the Lower Mainland and Lower Fraser Valley.

Click to play video: 'Lytton wildfire: Witness account of burning train at Boston Bar' Lytton wildfire: Witness account of burning train at Boston Bar
Lytton wildfire: Witness account of burning train at Boston Bar – Jul 3, 2021

Spokesperson Niki Reitmayer says with winds blowing smoke, conditions can change rapidly.

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At least 77 new blazes have ignited in the last two days, bringing the total number of active fires to 175.

Officials say lightning strikes started most of the fires.

-With files from The Canadian Press

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