Air quality is deteriorating in the Okanagan Valley and Kamloops hit a 10 + on the air quality health index (AQHI) as wildfires rage in B.C.’s southern interior.
The smoke is so thick in the Kamloops area, the epicentre of the current wildfire fight in B.C., that the air quality is nearly off the charts and considered a high health risk.
Residents in the Thompson and Fraser Nicola regions are urged to limit outdoor strenuous activity. Children and the elderly are also encouraged to avoid exercise outdoors.
The situation is far better in the Okanagan, where there are no major wildfires burning as of July 4, but the presence of smoke is undeniable.
The air is hazy and the smell of smoke is strong in many Okanagan communities. A smoky skies bulletin was extended to include the Okanagan Valley on Sunday.
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“We know that there is smoke in the area, it’s just not on the ground and in significant enough concentrations right now that is bringing that AQHI number up, however, we wanted people to be aware that there is smoke in the area and we can smell it and it is a serious health concern,” said Gavin King, an air quality meteorologist with the ministry of environment and climate change.
The AQHI is pegged at 3, or low risk, in Kelowna, Penticton and Vernon but is expected to increase to a 4, or moderate health risk, by Sunday afternoon.
“We ask people to be careful and be aware of how their body is responding. It’s going to put your body under stress, It might give you a sore throat or sore eyes or a headache and people should take health precautions such as leaving the smoke if they can, going to an air-conditioned area,” King said.
The ministry of environment’s smoky skies bulletin includes regions such as 100 Mile, Arrow Lakes-Sloacn Lake, the B.C. South Peace River, Boundary, Okanagan, Chilcotin, East Columbia, East Kootenays, Fraser Canyon, Nicola, Thompson, Shuswap, Similkameen and Willston.
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“Wildfire smoke is a natural part of our environment, but it is important to be mindful that exposure to smoke may affect your health,” the advisory stated.
“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.”
Environment Canada said the smoke isn’t going to lift any time soon.
‘The smoke will stick around in the Okanagan for the next several days,” said meteorologist Jonathan Bau.
“The pattern right now is fairly stagnant with very little flow aloft. By Wednesday, an upper trough is forecast moving through the southern interior, and that will bring some rain and unfortunately a chance of thunderstorms as well.”
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King also warned that residents and visitors to the B.C. Interior should expect a long, hot and smoky summer.
“It is going to continue. This is a very very dry year and we have a lot of fires that have started and there is no sign that it is going to change this season,” he said.
King said weather watchers can only hope for rain.
“Any rain is going to help because it almost literally washes the smoke out of the air so if you have some nice showers that roll through, it will really dampen that smoke.”
Metro Vancouver, meanwhile, says things look promising for the Lower Mainland and Lower Fraser Valley.
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Spokesperson Niki Reitmayer says with winds blowing smoke, conditions can change rapidly.
Officials say lightning strikes started most of the fires.
-With files from The Canadian Press
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