U.S. wildfire smoke clings to B.C., wafts east to Alberta

September 15, 2020
U.S. wildfire smoke clings to B.C., wafts east to Alberta

Smoke is expected to cloak two-thirds of British Columbia for another day or two, according to Environment Canada.

Air quality is only expected to improve marginally by Tuesday as an infusion of Pacific ocean air starts to push smoke from wildfires in Oregon and Washington state east.

“There are a few things going on that might help improve it,” said the agency’s Mike Gismondi. “But it doesn’t look like we are going to have widespread showers, so it won’t be enough to wash it all out.”

The acrid, grey smoke has been hanging over the majority of the province for several days, and worsened over the weekend.

Air quality in a number of cities from Vancouver Island to the Kootenays has been among the worst in the world, on and off, since Friday. Only the northern third of the province has escaped the haze.

Vancouver opens cleaner air spaces

In response to air quality advisories issued by Metro Vancouver, the City of Vancouver says it, along with the Vancouver Park Board, are activating cleaner air spaces at three locations Monday and two more starting Tuesday.  The sites will offer a limited number of spaces with air filters in place to support people struggling with respiratory issues.

Open now

  • Carnegie Community Centre: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Evelyne Saller Centre: 9:15 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Gathering Place Community Centre: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Open Tuesday

  • Mount Pleasant Community Centre: 7:15 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, closing at 8 p.m. Thursday to Friday, 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
  • Vancouver Public Library Central Branch: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday

Wildfire smoke versus COVID-19 symptoms

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control says wildfire smoke can make it hard for a person’s lungs to move oxygen into their blood, and can cause inflammation throughout the body. 

Some common symptoms include eye irritation, runny nose, sore throat, mild cough, phlegm production, wheezy breathing and headaches. 

More severe symptoms may include shortness of breath, severe cough, dizziness, chest pain or heart palpitations. Individuals experiencing any of these symptoms should seek medical attention. 

Dr. Tom Kosatsky with the BCCDC says wildfire smoke and COVID-19 have some symptoms in common, like headache, cough and difficulty breathing. But fever, chills, and loss of smell or taste are unique symptoms to COVID-19.

“If you’re in a fairly clean environment indoors and go outdoors and all of a sudden start noticing everything is going wrong — ‘I’m getting a headache, I’m finding it hard to breathe, my throat is itchy’ — that’s not COVID causing that, that’s forest fire smoke,” said Kosatsky, medical director of environmental health services at the BCCDC.

WATCH | Drone footage shows thick wildfire haze:

Aerial footage of Cultus Lake near Chilliwack, B.C., shows the thick haze caused by wildfires in the United States. 1:01

Environment Canada says Alberta will now likely see an increasing number of air quality advisories. 

Air quality statements have been issued for four regions of southwestern Alberta along the Rockies, but the federal weather office says alerts will likely expand before smoke exits that province tonight.

The smoke comes from hundreds of wildfires burning in Washington, Oregon and California that have destroyed whole communities and killed at least 35 people.

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