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B.C. Wildfires 2018: Smoky skies raise air quality concerns

Metro Vancouver and much of south and central B.C. are once again under a blanket of smoke and haze, and there is little relief in the forecast.

Little relief in forecast as smoke from hundreds of wildfires blankets province

A smoky haze turned the sky orange over Vancouver on Monday afternoon. (Jodi Muzylowski/CBC)

Metro Vancouver and much of south and central B.C. are once again under a blanket of smoke and haze, and there is little relief in the forecast.

On Tuesday smoke from an estimated 600 wildfires burning across the province pushed the air quality health index up to high for large areas of the province, meaning residents should consider reducing strenuous activities outdoors.

This is the view of Vancouver from City Hall blanketed in smoke.

Environment Canada has issued a smoke advisory for Metro Vancouver 0:18

Environment Canada meteorologist Cindy Yu says a lack of wind in the forecast means the smoke is likely to stick around the next few days.

"It will be a relatively dry week with little air flow so we are expecting the smoke to linger," Yu said on Tuesday morning.

"Having said that, normally in the afternoon hours with the daytime heating we should see the smoke rise a little bit."

Vehicles drive through Fort Fraser, in Central B.C., Tuesday afternoon under apocalyptic skies. Smoke from hundreds of forest fires in the province have led to numerous advisories and warnings about the health impacts of smoke. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Yu says the earliest relief for the South Coast and Metro Vancouver could come on Thursday when a light westerly wind is forecast.

Nightfall at 3 p.m.

Further north, Fraser Lake Mayor Dwayne Lindstrom said Tuesday was unlike any he'd experienced in decades living in the village.

The skies darkened at 3:30 p.m. PT — so much so that street lights turned on and residents drove around with headlights on as smoke and ash choked out the light.

Fraser Lake Mayor Dwayne Lindstrom says he's never seen skies darken from wildfires as they did Tuesday afternoon. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

"It's probably one of the weirdest days I've ever had in my life," Lindstrom told Radio West guest host Audrey McKinnon.

The community is on edge, he explained, with several large fires burning in the area.

Fraser Lake is on evacuation alert and an evacuation order could come at a moment's notice.​

On Tuesday evening, an evacuation order was expanded for much of the populated area of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako to the south of Fraser Lake.

There are an estimated 600 wildfires burning across B.C. including this one near the Pondosy Bay Wilderness Resort near Tweedsmuir. (Pondosy Bay Wilderness Resort)

Air quality statements

Some of the cities on the 1-10 air quality health index scale at 6 a.m. include:

  • Williams Lake and Quesnel 10+
  • Metro Vancouver 8
  • Kamloops 7
  • North Okanagan 5
  • Victoria 4

Environment Canada has issued a special air quality statement for much of the south and centre of the province warning people with pre-existing health conditions to take the following health precautions.

  • Stay inside if you have breathing difficulties.
  • Find an indoor place that's cool and ventilated. Using an air conditioner that cools and filters air may help.
  • If you open the windows you may let in more polluted air.
  • If your home isn't air conditioned, consider going to a public place (library, shopping mall, recreation centre) that is air conditioned.
Smoke from wildfires cast a pall over Vancouver's False Creek on Tuesday morning. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Sending in the troops

The smoky skies are helping firefighting efforts by making conditions cooler and more humid, according to fire information officer Ryan Turcot, but they also make it more difficult for firefighting tankers and helicopters to operate.

Despite the cooler conditions, the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako has expanded an evacuation order for the Verdun fire.

There are more than 3,000 firefighters battling hundreds of wildfires across much of B.C., and additional resources are being called from other provinces and countries to help out.

Turcot says more fires have broken out in B.C. this year compared to the same time last year, but they are generally smaller and have burned only half the total area.

On Monday, the federal government announced it is sending 200 troops and aircraft to help fight the wildfires.

Vancouver Coastal Health's Dr. Mark Lysyshyn offers some tips for B.C. residents. 0:52

Live feed: B.C. Wildfires 2018

About the Author

Mike Laanela

Mike Laanela is an online journalist with CBC News in Vancouver.

With files from Liz McArthur and CBC Radio One's Radio West

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