British Columbia

Southern B.C. catches glimpse of blue sky after days of smoke, but relief is likely days away

Vancouver-area residents caught a glimmer of sunny blue sky Tuesday afternoon, but the reprieve from days of thick smoke is expected to be short-lived. 

'Very high' air quality risk level remains over most of province's south, Environment Canada says

Smoke from wildfires in Washington state is pictured over the Vancouver skyline in False Creek in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, September 15, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vancouver-area residents caught a glimmer of sunny blue sky Tuesday afternoon, but the reprieve from days of thick smoke is expected to be short-lived. 

Despite the sunnier skies, air quality remains at dangerously high levels in most of the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Okanagan and the Kootenays, with a risk level of 10+, the highest level of risk, according to Environment Canada. 

A healthy dose of rain in some areas of B.C. on Monday night helped clear out some of the wildfire smoke hanging over the province.

Although it helped improve air quality in Metro Vancouver somewhat, ground-level smoke remains and is expected to persist throughout the week, and an air quality advisory remains in effect for the area. 

Only the northern third of the province has escaped air quality advisories in recent days.

The brief reprieve from wildfire smoke on Tuesday won't last long, meteorologists say.

"There is so much smoke that half an hour, an hour of rain is just not enough to try to get us to clean levels," said Armel Castellan, warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada.

On the bright side, Castellan said, the direct flow of wind that brought smoke to B.C. has shifted, so the province is no longer in the smoke's path.

"We're not adding more smoke currently, which is a really good thing," he said.

But relief from the heavy, acrid air flowing from catastrophic wildfires in Washington state and Oregon likely won't arrive in full until at least the end of the week, the forecaster said.

The City of Castlegar, in the West Kootenay, topped the charts for poor air quality on Saturday. (Submitted by Liana Zwick)

B.C. might see another blast of smoky air when that direct air flow returns on Thursday, but later that evening, clean, cool air from the Pacific and sustained rain should start washing over the province, leading to a clearer Friday. 

"It's not impossible that we actually get worse on Thursday before we get better," he said.

"That will, hopefully, be mostly the end of this event," he added. "I don't want to say categorically that it'll be over because we could, again, see some of these incredibly big fires, particularly to the southern half of Oregon and California, still bring some flow all the way up to the [B.C.] South Coast."

Environment Canada extended its air quality advisories for the majority of the province again on Tuesday. 

"The forecast indicates slight improvement in air quality today but ground-level smoke will remain, and possibly until later this week," the notice read.

Smoke affecting Canada Post mail delivery

Some measurements this week have ranked air quality in parts of B.C. among the worst in the world. In those conditions, those with pre-existing health conditions should be careful and the general public should avoid exercising outdoors.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation and Greater Victoria Teachers Association have both called for schools to be shut down in the province because it is not safe for children to play outside in the smoke, nor is it ideal to have them cooped up in the classroom while they are supposed to be practising physical distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Canada Post suspended mail delivery in central and southern B.C. on Monday, saying the smoke had made it unsafe for mail carriers.

That suspension carried into Tuesday for the following communities:

  • Castlegar.
  • Cloverdale.
  • Duncan.
  • Ganges.
  • Mayne Island.
  • New Westminster.
  • Okanagan Valley.
  • Sooke.
  • Trail.
  • White Rock.

The Crown corporation said mail delivery would not be cancelled but could be delayed for some other areas of central and southern B.C.