British Columbia

Smoke darkens Prince George skies, hampers air quality

Ominous orange skies glowed over Prince George bringing bad air quality to the region as winds blow smoke north from the Cariboo.

Air quality health index was 45 overnight Saturday on a scale that normally tops out at 10

Ashes fall from the sky on August 12, 2017 in Prince George, after winds shifted, carrying smoke north from fires in the Cariboo. (Lou Campese)

Smoke from large fires in the Cariboo region has blown into Prince George and surrounding areas after a shift in wind direction over the weekend.

The wind carried ashes from the fires south of Prince George, leaving a light dusting on cars and sidewalks that was washed away by overnight rains.

"It has been smoky in Prince George, incredibly smoky, actually," said Eryn Collins, communication officer with Northern Health, who warned residents to take precautions.

Smoky conditions at Summit Lake, north of Prince George during wildfires in (Juleen Greer)

At noon on Sunday, the health risk was rated at 15 on the Air Quality Health index (AQHI). Numbers higher than 10 are unusual and indicate a very high risk.

The air quality index reached as high as 45 overnight on Saturday.

Poor air quality

In Quesnel, the health risk is also rated high and is forecast to remain high overnight and into Monday.

While Collins said the rain has helped, smoke concentrations are varied across the region and air quality is very bad in some areas.

The concentration of fine particulate matter in the air averaged 244 micrograms per cubic metre compared to the province's target measure of 25 micrograms per cubic metre, over a 24-hour period.

That particulate is of concern for anyone with asthma or other chronic illnesses. They are being told to carry emergency medication at all times and avoid the outdoors.

Experts suggest people go to shopping malls or public buildings where air is filtered, but noted that air quality indoors may still be a hazard.

Anyone experiencing difficulty in breathing, chest pain or discomfort or a sudden onset of coughing should visit a health care provider.

Northern Health has taken measures to ensure air quality is maintained inside hospitals in Quesnel and Prince George.

Forecast to improve

The smoke is blowing in from the south on a southwesterly wind and causing eerily dark orange and red skies.

Officials at B.C. Wildfire Service and the Regional District of Fraser Fort George said there are no fires of note nearby.

The Air Quality Health Index is forecast to return to moderate on Sunday night and low on Monday.

The largest active wildfire in the region is east of Lucas Lake, about 160 kilometres from Prince George. It is not currently threatening any communities or structures, according to the province.