Residents urged to take precautions as wildfire smoke comprises air quality in parts of B.C.

Click to play video: 'Canadian wildfire smoke now affecting millions across North America'
Canadian wildfire smoke now affecting millions across North America
It's a reality British Columbians are unfortunately getting used to: wildfire smoke affecting air quality. Smoke has started to creep into Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, but despite an advisory for some areas, it's nowhere near as bad as parts of eastern Canada and the U.S. As Kristen Robinson reports, there are precautions people can take to breathe a little easier – Jun 7, 2023

Residents in the northeast and southeast British Columbia, as well as the interior of Vancouver Island, are being urged to take health precautions this week as wildfire smoke wafts into their communities.

More than 80 wildfires are burning across the province, five of which are “highly visible” or posing a “potential threat to public safety,” and a third of which are out of control.

Environment Canada has issued air quality statements for Fort Nelson, Kinbasket, and inland Vancouver Island, warning that smoke is likely for the next day or two and is dangerous if inhaled, even in low concentrations.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the BlueSky Canada smoke forecast further identifies problematic levels of particulate matter may be near Harrison Hot Springs, east and north of Fort St. John, around Tumbler Ridge, and north of Adams Lake.

Story continues below advertisement

The B.C. government also listed Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Whistler, Quesnel, Prince George, and east of Cranbrook as having moderate air quality health risk. Its map identified Abbotsford as having high risk.

Click to play video: '‘My throat’s burning’: Canada’s wildfires put millions under air quality advisories'
‘My throat’s burning’: Canada’s wildfires put millions under air quality advisories

According to Dr. Don Sin, a respirologist at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, breathing in wildfire smoke can do similar damage as smoking cigarettes. Either way, carcinogens end up in the lungs — the difference is that people may smoke up to 12 times per day, but humans breathe between 12 and 20 times per minute, he told Global News.

‘Once they get into the lungs they behave in a very bad way, regardless of the source of where the constituents came from,” he explained.

“Acutely, in the immediate-term, exposure to poor air quality can lead to irritation of the eyes, nose, cough, shortness of breath … in the intermediate and long-term, these small particles can end up in the lungs for weeks, months — sometimes years — and create inflammation, which can cause havoc in the airways leading to things like asthma, COPD, and in some cases even heart attacks and strokes.”

Story continues below advertisement

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Click to play video: 'B.C. mayor concerned with Highway 4 closure due to wildfire'
B.C. mayor concerned with Highway 4 closure due to wildfire

University of British Columbia’s Dr. Sarah Henderon said people can protect themselves by reducing or avoiding outdoor physical activity, using a portable air cleaner like a HEPA filter to cut down on dangerous particulate matter in the air and seeking out large public spaces that have large air filtration systems, like libraries and shopping malls.

People may also wish to wear a well-fitted face mask, and avoid the outdoors altogether if they are particularly vulnerable to smoke. Pregnant people, infants, young children, older adults, and people with asthma, COPD, heart disease or other chronic conditions are among those in that group.

“As you go further away from the source, the air quality will improve continually and over spatial periods,” Sin said.

“However, it’s complicated because the wind patterns may also affect the air quality in the province that you live in, so an adjacent province may be impacted almost as severely as the source province if the winds are blowing in that direction.”

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'NDP’s Singh concerned by smoke inhalation caused by wildfires'
NDP’s Singh concerned by smoke inhalation caused by wildfires

In B.C., the Donnie Creek wildfire near Prince George, the Peavine Creek and West Kiskatinaw River wildfires south of Dawson Creek, the Chehalis River wildfire near Harrison Hot Springs, and the Cameron Bluffs fire near Port Alberni are all considered “wildfires of note.”

The latter has shutdown a portion of Highway 4, but not led to any evacuation alerts or orders.

The Peace River Regional District, however, issued a new evacuation order for a number of residents at risk from the West Kiskatinaw River fire and declared a local state of emergency. People are still out of their homes under orders tied to the Donnie Creek and Tommy Lakes wildfire as well.

Story continues below advertisement

No alerts or orders have been issued for the Chehalis River fire, suspected to be human-caused. It was first discovered on June 3.

Across the country, millions of Canadians have been put under air quality advisories. Some 400 wildfires are currently burning across the country, more than half of which are out control.

As of Wednesday, more than 20,000 Canadians had been displaced. To date in 2023, nearly 2,300 wildfires have torched 3.8 million hectares of land nationwide.

– with files from Kristen Robinson

Sponsored content