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Okanagan residents breathing worst air in Canada, may not see relief until mid-week

Click to play video: 'Concerns about the adverse effects of B.C. wildfire smoke pollution' Concerns about the adverse effects of B.C. wildfire smoke pollution
With wildfires continuing to burn across the province health experts are sounding the alarm about wildfire smoke pollution -- especially in the southern interior. As Andrea Macpherson reports, deteriorating air quality is impacting residents -- and the crews working around the clock to save homes and critical infrastructure – Jul 26, 2021

Okanagan residents, breathing in some of the worst air in the country, may not get a reprieve from the wildfire smoke until mid-week, according to Environment Canada.

Jonathan Bau, senior meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said minimal precipitation forecast for Sunday will not be enough to wash away the smoke hovering across the valley, currently posing dangerous health risks.

Click to play video: 'Vacationers’ fun smoked out in the Okanagan' Vacationers’ fun smoked out in the Okanagan
Vacationers’ fun smoked out in the Okanagan – Aug 2, 2021

Read more: Wildfire smoke: Central, North Okanagan at 10-plus ratings for air quality

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“It’s going to be quite minimal, unfortunately,” he said of the weekend rain.

“The smoke will be sticking around for, at least, the next 48 hours. We are getting a little bit of rain with thunderstorms, but, not enough to really scour out the smoke,” Bau told Global News.

Hobson Beach in Kelowna, B.C., on Saturday, July 31, 2021. Courtesy: Ed Burke/Submitted

But, there is some optimism in the forecast, with a potential change in weather come Tuesday afternoon.

Read more: Wildfire smoke: Air quality index for Okanagan maxes out at 10-plus, again

“That’s when we’re expecting a stronger southwest flow and hopefully that will help push the smoke east, or at least, mix it out, so the air quality can finally improve,” Bau said.

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The Okanagan remains under a special air quality statement as the region’s air quality health index rating (AQHI) was at the province’s maximum, or worst, level — 10-plus.

The province’s AQHI rating system has four levels: low health risk (1-3), moderate health risk (4-6), high health risk (7-10) and very high (10-plus).

“It is the worst in Canada,” Bau said.

Okanagan Lake beach in Penticton, B.C., on Sunday, August 1, 2021. Shelby Thom/Global News

“I was looking at all the other stations we have across the country and the next worst one would be just west of Edmonton in the Drayton Valley area. They are reporting an AQHI of 7. They have some smoke from B.C. and part of it locally.”

Read more: B.C. wildfire map 2021: Location and size of the fires burning around the province

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The cities of Kelowna and Vernon have gone 49 days without a significant rainfall event, Bau said, the last dating back to June 13 and 14. Penticton recorded 5.5 millimeters of rain on July 8.

Much of the lower two-thirds of the province are under a smoky skies bulletin, with heavy smoke stretching from Prince George and Fort. St. John in the north to Osoyoos in the south.

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, the bulletin said.

For tips to reduce exposure, visit the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy’s website.

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Motorists on some B.C. highways are being warned of reduced visibility due to extreme smoke. Visit DriveBC’s website before your next road trip.

There were 60 evacuation orders covering just over 3,000 properties at the latest count from Emergency Management B.C., while residents of nearly 19,000 other properties had been told to be ready to leave on short notice.

Meanwhile, the Vancouver Coastal Health authority says it’s keeping a close watch as smoke from wildfires in B.C.’s Interior as well as Washington state is forecast to reach the south coast and Metro Vancouver over the weekend.

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