Health authorities say Metro Vancouver's air quality has dipped to levels close to those found in major Chinese polluted cities such as Beijing, and are warning residents to stay indoors, due in part to the rampant wildfires in B.C.

"I would say that the air quality that we've experienced recently [in B.C.] and are experiencing now is unfortunately something that residents in a lot of cities in China experience on quite a regular basis, which I think is quite concerning because these are certainly levels that pose a risk for human health and well-being," said Fraser Health medical health officer Dr. Lisa Mu. 

The string of forest fires currently burning in the province forced Environment Canada to issue air quality advisories on Monday for several areas, including Metro Vancouver.

The sharp decrease in air quality is mostly due to small particles from the fires, which can irritate people's lungs. 

The highest concentration of particulate matter in the air has been found in North Burnaby, where levels are not far behind those in Beijing. The sprawling Chinese city is notorious for its poor air quality. It's often engulfed in smog for days on end as China contends with rampant air pollution stemming from its decades of economic growth. 

Particulate matter numbers:

  • Beijing: 144 µg/m3
  • Burnaby north: 112 µg/m3
  • Vancouver: 60.1 µg/m3
  • Abbotsford: 58 µg/m3
  • Paris: 56 µg/m3
Vancouver BC Forest Fires 20150705 Lions Gate Bridge smoke July 5 2015

Smoke from wildfires in the Interior of British Columbia blankets the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver. Health officials in the province have issued air quality warnings as a result of the fires. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Note: These figures are accurate for 7 p.m. PT on Monday. Source: Air Quality B.C.

Air quality advisories across region

B.C. has issued air quality warnings for Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Howe Sound and the Sunshine Coast.

"We've seen some short-term concentrations of particulates that are around as much as four times the normal levels," said Roger Quan, director of air quality policy and climate change for Metro Vancouver.

"It's going to take a change in the weather and an improvement in the fires themselves to clean out the air that we're seeing here in Metro Vancouver," said Quan. 

Avoid strenuous exercise, stay indoors  

Heath experts warn that vulnerable segments of the population are the most at risk of adverse health effects due to poor air quality.

"People with pre-existing heart or lung conditions, with diabetes, pregnant women, the very young, the very old ... those are the people we're most concerned with," said Michael Brauer, a professor in the UBC School of Population and Public Health.

He said anyone in any of those categories should consider staying indoors and not exert themselves outdoors.

Brauer said even healthy people should avoid strenuous activity outdoors to keep from inhaling too much smoke.

With files from CBC's Dan Burritt