Some Prince George residents are complaining about the smoke that blew into town over the Easter Weekend, but Forest Protection officials say the slash burning that caused it is a necessary measure to help prevent summer wildfires.

Eighteen piles of slash — branches and other tree debris — were burned approximately five kilometres outside the city limits on Friday.

Slash burning is a common method used by foresters to get rid of debris left over from harvesting operations. The debris is highly flammable and one of the "most effective ways to abate the fire hazard is to burn it," said Brent Bye, Forest Protection Officer for the Prince George Fire Centre.

"I would rather have a little bit of fire in March than a great big fire in August," he told CBC Radio's Daybreak North.

Health concerns

People burning slash in the area north of the city usually do not encounter problems because the wind normally works in their favour, blowing the smoke away from town. But on Friday, the wind blew southward instead and filled the city with enough smoke that the hospital was busy treating people with breathing problems, according to health officials. 

"I have asthma so I was taking my puffers a lot more because I was aggravated from the fire, the smoke coming into the Prince George bowl," said Dr. Marie Hay, a pediatrician.

Prince George sky

Prince George residents say they had to put up with a lot of smoke in the city this past Easter Weekend. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC)

Children, seniors and people with heart or lung conditions are especially vulnerable to poor air quality, said Hay, who is also the president of the People's Action Committee for Healthy Air in Prince George.

"[These people], even with short term exposure, can have serious health consequences as a result."

Responsibility for slash burning

In some cases, people may even have to be treated in hospital for smoke inhalation. A slash burn outside of Terrace sent at least one man to hospital last week.

"Our house was full of smoke. I could barely breathe. I think this is a serious thing. I ended up in hospital," said Charles Claus, who had an asthma attack, triggered by the smoke.

Those who slash burn should watch where the smoke is going and put out the fire if the smoke heads toward populated areas, said conservation officer Ryan Gordan in Terrace.

"If the smoke is going to be negatively affecting any of the nearby homes, where you can see the smoke is going to be heading towards someone's house, you're meant to immediately stop burning and put that fire out."

With files from CBC Radio's Daybreak North

To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Smoke in Prince George raises questions about slash-burning method.