It doesn’t look like the wildfire smoke that’s currently blanketing much of the Okanagan will dissipate anytime soon.
With numerous fires burning in the region, smoke is being funnelled into the valley from several directions.
“Regardless of the wind direction, we’re going to see smoke from one fire or another at this point,” said Global Okanagan meteorologist Peter Quinlan.
“The Okanagan is being smothered all around.”
A smoky skies bulletin is in place for the South, Central and North Okanagan, with many regions in B.C.’s Interior also being impacted by wildfire smoke.
“When we’re under these ridges of high pressure, it kind of traps the pollutants in the smoke in the valley bottom, so it has difficulty filtering out of the area,” Quinlan said.
“So, yes, the smoke situation is fairly poor.”
According to the province’s air quality health index (AQHI), the health risk across the Okanagan ranges from moderate to very high.
“We’re looking at air quality indexes at the cusp of being very high,” Quinlan said. “Even times being close to off-the-charts levels.”
Quinlan said the air quality is the poorest nearest wildfires.
“We’re talking South Okanagan, Okanagan Falls and into the Boundary region because that’s kind of downstream of the Thomas Creek wildfire and also up into the North Okanagan,” Quinlan said.
“The western sections are the areas that aren’t hit quite as badly; we’re talking about parts of the Similkameen, Keremeos, even places like Peachland. They’re not seeing it quite as bad as western sections.”
While smoke forecasting is difficult due to a number of factors, including how quickly fires can be extinguished, the smoke is likely here to stay for some time.
“We’re not looking at any major amounts of moisture in the forecast and we’re looking at a continuation of a stretch of hot weather into the foreseeable future,” said Quinlan.
“It looks like at least for the rest of July, likely through the middle of August. And then it really depends on how many more fires start, which can worsen the situation.”
According to Interior Health (IH), 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.
IH advises people to stop or reduce their activity level if breathing becomes uncomfortable or if a person does not feel well. Staying cool and drinking plenty of fluids is also advised.
People who have asthma or other chronic illness are encouraged to carry any rescue (fast-acting) medications at all times and activate personal care plans designed with family physicians.