British Columbia

Kamloops summer of 2017 smokiest ever recorded

Environment Canada says the city had low visibility due to smoke for almost 20 per cent of the summer. That shatters a previous record for smoky days and illustrates the health challenges local people faced.

City set new record for most hours in a summer with low visibility by a wide margin thanks to smoke

On Aug. 3, 2017, Kamloops set a local record for poor air quality thanks to several wildfires raging around the city. (Doug Herbert/CBC)

The 2017 forest fire season meant Kamloops had its smokiest summer ever, according to Environment Canada.

A meteorologist says the city's local record for highest number of hours in a summer with low visibility — meaning hours where it was difficult to see more than 9.7 kilometres in the distance — was broken by a wide margin thanks to wildfire smoke.

The previous record was 81 hours, set in 2010. In 2017, it was 387 hours.

"That's pretty close to 18 per cent of the hours throughout the summer," said meteorologist Doug Lundquist. "It's just a smashing of that record."

Lundquist says visibility is a good indicator of how much particulate matter is in the air.

In early August, nearby wildfires brought the city's Air Quality Health Index up to 49, another record. Anything over 10 is considered a very high risk to human health.

Flights from the city's airport were cancelled due to low visibility and people were advised to stay indoors.

While Environment Canada only looked at Kamloops data, he says the smoky skies were felt acutely across the region.

"I live in the B.C. Interior, and Kelowna was very smoky as well," he said. "I noticed my eyes were definitely burning and I felt people were saying they were tired. It was harder to breathe and harder on our body systems."

Lundquist says these days visibility is usually measured by sensors, but, sometimes, meteorologists simply look for a mountain or other feature in the distance to see if it is visible that day.

Lundquist says data on visibility goes back to 1953.

Several wildfires are still active in B.C. as of mid-Septmeber.