Wildfire smoke offers positives and negatives

“The smoke has been so dense it has actually calmed some of the fire activity we’re seeing, particularly in Southern B.C.” - Kevin Skrepnek

Trail’s poor air quality may be keeping most indoors, wishing the smoke would clear. But the heavy haze residents are experiencing is, in fact, good for the region, according to Kevin Skrepnek, BC Wildfire Service’s chief fire information officer.

“The smoke has been so dense it has actually calmed some of the fire activity we’re seeing, particularly in Southern B.C.,” he said via teleconference Monday afternoon.

“The smoke almost takes on the same quality that cloud cover would,” he added.

“So it’s absorbing some of the heat that normally would be coming out of the ground from the sun but also trapping a little bit of humidity closer to the ground.”

He attributes the decrease in fire activity partially to the smoke coverage, pointing to only two new wildfires started Monday, eight from Saturday, which is far below the 100-odd fires sparked daily in July.

The total number of active fires over the last couple of days has decreased to 180 from some 200 across the province.

That said, smoke remains a top challenge both for visually identifying new blazes and impacting air quality.

Dr. Kamran Golmohammadi, a medical health officer for Interior Health, joined the conversation to add his insight to the current condition across the province.

The main health concern, he said, is the particulate matter that remains suspended in the air for an extended period.

“(The) major concern is the particles that are extremely small in size, 2.5 micrometers or smaller, in diameter because they can lodge deep in our lungs and cause respiratory and cardiac problems,” he explained.

Trail’s air quality is considered at high risk, according to air quality values posted to bcairquality.ca.

The online tool maps out the province’s air quality down to the nearest community with a simple click of the mouse. The province measures particulate matter 2.5 (from fire), ozone and nitrogen dioxide levels in the air to determine air quality. The numbered and coloured scale offers different referrals based on whether website users are at low, moderate or high risk.

Those most at risk when smoke clouds air quality include children, older adults, pregnant women, those with a chronic lung condition, or people who have been outside in these conditions doing extraneous physical activity.

Dr. Golmohammadi simply recommends staying inside when there is heavy smoke and even using an air filtration system like an air conditioner. But not all systems can get rid of the small particles.

The fire danger rating remains high in the Southeast Fire Centre, where seven of the 13 wildfires of note are burning in the province.

The latest from Karlie Shaughnessy of the Southeast Fire Centre:

– The fire west of Rossland in the Big Sheep Creek area is 190 hectares and 60 per cent contained. Thirty-three BC Wildfire Service personnel,  and five helicopters are onsite. 

- The fire burning ten kilometres north of Christina Lake on the Paulson Pass is 300 hectares in size and 80 per cent contained. Fifty-five personnel, two pieces of heavy equipment and two helicopters are working on this fire. For information on Highway 3, visit www.drivebc.ca

– The Hanna Creek fire, located northwest of Oasis (Hanna Creek) is currently 0.64 hectares and is 100 per cent contained

– The Tenderloin Mountain, 20 km south of Edgewood is 50 hectares and 60 per cent contained. Twenty-two personnel are on-site and two helicopters.

- The fire 5.6 km northwest of Renata is currently 26 hectares and 100 per cent contained. Twenty-eight firefighters, three helicopters and one piece of heavy equipment were on site Monday.


– West of Rock Creek, the blaze is estimated at 4,534 hectares and 75 per cent contained.

Resources: 187 firefighters, including 65 contract firefighters, eight helicopters and 19 pieces of heavy equipment working on the incident.

– Stickpin Fire in Washington is southeast of Grand Forks, with the northern most part of the fire currently estimated at 5 km south of the border and 19,240 hectares. BC Wildfire Service crews began fire suppression in the U.S on Sunday, and will be responsible for “Branch 3” on the northeast portion the fire.
Resources: 33 firefighters, three officers and two pieces of heavy equipment.

Smokey conditions are currently restricting air operations on the fire.

Fires to date: (As of August 21, 2015)
So far this season, the Southeast fire centre has seen 553 fires, which have burned 10,490 hectares. Of these 481 were lightning-caused and the rest person-caused (72). 
On a five-year average: 266 / 3,590 ha’s