The Columbia River valley remained thick with forest fire smoke this week. Sheri Regnier photo

Smoky skies? Seek cleaner air indoors

A Kootenay-wide air quality advisory has been in effect since Sunday

With 42 active fires burning in the Southeast Fire Centre – 17 new fires were sparked by lightning Tuesday night – smoky skies will likely prevail in the river valley for at least another week.

Fire Information Officer Carlee Kachman says smoke depends on predominating winds, so it isn’t necessarily coming from local fires, moreover it’s being pushed to the Trail area from all the larger fires burning across the province.

Another factor is what’s happening south of the border.

According to the Incident Information System, a number of wildfires are burning in Washington State, including the Noisy Creek fire near Colville and another further south in the Okanogan/Wenatchee National Forest.

As the smoky haze thickened around Trail over the weekend, the province issued a Kootenay-wide air quality advisory on Sunday, and it included a public warning about avoiding strenuous outdoor activities during hazy conditions.

Fortunately, there hasn’t been a significant increase in the local emergency departments due to smoke, including urgent visits at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital.

However, Dr. Sue Pollock from Interior Health, advises anybody with a respiratory condition to keep their medications on them at all times and to have an action plan in case their medications cannot bring symptoms under control.

“Forest fire smoke affects everybody when it is happening,” she began. “But the people most at risk is anybody with any preexisting chronic condition especially asthma, COPD, heart disease and diabetes, women who are pregnant, infants and small children and the very elderly. Those are the people we are most concerned about during the smoky conditions.”

She suggests those affected by smoke should of course, seek cleaner air indoors.

Pollock added, “You can create a clean air shelter in your home using a portable HEPA air filtration unit and you can seek cleaner air in a public building such as a library, a community centre or shopping mall.”

Forest fire smoke is a complex mixture of gases and particles that can change rapidly in both space and time.

From a health perspective, the very small particles are concerning because they can penetrate deep into the lungs and irritate tissue because the body interprets particulate the same way it would a bacterium or virus.

The matter can snowball if the person experiences an immunological response to the particles, which can trigger whole body inflammation, thereby affecting organs beyond the lungs.

Pollock is reminding the public to contact Health Link by phoning 8-1-1 for further information about protection measures during smoky conditions, and to call 9-1-1 if someone is having a medical emergency.

Three new lightning-caused fires were sparked near Ladybird Creek, 24 kilometers (km) northwest of Castlegar, on Monday.

Kachman said ground crews assessed and ranked firefighting priorities on Tuesday. The first one was extinguished that night, and by Wednesday, another was under control and the third was being held.

She reported five new lightning-caused fires from Tuesday, all are near the south border of Granby Park, which is about 60 km northeast of Grand Forks.

On Wednesday, four of those wildfires encompassed less than one hectare each, while the largest – the Bluejoint fire – covered approximately 30 hectares.

Ground crews were fighting all five incidents with the aid of air tankers and helicopters.

In the East Kootenay, crews were working on four lightning-caused fires in the Moyie Lake area as well as two new fires discovered near White River, about 38 km northwest of Elkford.

The Southeast Fire Centre extends from the U.S. border in the south to the Mica Dam in the north and from the Okanagan Highlands and Monashee Mountains in the west to the B.C.-Alberta border in the east. The Southeast Fire Centre includes the Selkirk Natural Resource District and the Rocky Mountain Natural Resource District.

To report a wildfire or open burning violation, call *5555 on a cellphone or 1.800.663.5555 toll-free. For the latest information on current wildfire activity, burning restrictions, road closures and air quality advisories, visit: www.bcwildfire.ca.

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