Smoke, haze impact air quality in Manitoba

Air quality across much of Manitoba is being impacted by smoke and haze drifting into the province from forest fires in Alberta and B.C.

People advised to limit outdoor activity, especially if breathing becomes difficult or uncomfortable

Winnipeg's downtown skyline is shrouded in a haze on Friday morning. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Air quality across much of Manitoba is being impacted by smoke and haze drifting into the province from forest fires in Alberta and B.C., prompting health concerns.

People might experience symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath, while children, seniors and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk, Environment Canada warns in a special statement.

The agency is advising people to limit their outdoor activity and any strenuous physical activity, especially if breathing becomes difficult or uncomfortable.

Terry Burke has asthma, emphysema and COPD which puts her in the group Environment Canada is trying to reach with the smoke warning.

"It's hard to breathe," she told CBC News Friday. "It's like walking into a bush fire, basically."

"It just grips your lungs and doesn't let go."

Terry Burke says she spends most of her time indoors during smoky days in Winnipeg. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Environment Canada is also recommending people reduce their exposure to the smoke, if possible, by staying indoors.

That's something Burke says she's been doing during smoky days.

"I stay in my own suite," she said. "That's the only way I can get any satisfaction of not getting this other stuff in." 

However, if your home is not air-conditioned, be sure the house doesn't get too warm when doors and windows are closed to keep out smoke, the weather agency cautions, adding that exposure to too much heat can also result in illness.

Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living also warned about the diminished air quality Friday.

"Obviously what we're really concerned about is the more severe health effects for people," explained Dr. Heejune Chang, medical officer of health.

"The serious difficulty breathing that may arise from already having a chronic lung condition and then being overly active in the air."

To make matters worse Winnipeg and nearly all of Manitoba is under a heat warning too, and things aren't expected to cool off any time soon.

Daytime high temperatures of 32 C or hotter are expected for Friday, Saturday and Sunday for many communities. A forecast high of 36 C is expected in Winnipeg on Sunday.

The smoke has given the sun in southern Manitoba a bright orange glow. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Chang says the same group of people at risk during the smoke warning should take precautions during the heat too.

"Some of the groups at risk are similar," she said. "Older adults, young children, people with chronic conditions... Also people on certain medications, they can check to see if they are on any medications where they need to be extra cautious."

Overnight temperatures are expected to remain elevated during this period giving little respite from the heat.

"While periods of improvement are likely, the weather pattern will remain in place for the next couple days," Environment Canada says.

"Smoke and reduced air quality will continue to impact portions of the province into the weekend, especially if additional forest fires develop over the region. In these current conditions, even healthy individuals may experience sore eyes, tears, coughing and a runny nose."

Environment Canada advises against wearing a mask to protect your health from the smoke because masks can lead to a false sense of security, which may encourage increased physical activity and time spent outdoors, meaning increased exposure to smoke. Masks can also make breathing more difficult, the agency said.

In areas affected by smoke, Manitobans are encouraged to:

  • Limit outdoor activity.
  • Turn off furnaces and air-conditioning units that may draw smoke indoors.
  • Keep indoor air cleaner by avoiding smoking or burning other materials.

Anyone with health questions or concerns can contact their health-care provider or call Health Links at 204-788-8200 or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257. More information on the health effects of smoke is available on the Manitoba Government website.