Calgary air quality rated high risk as wildfire smoke prompts Alberta-wide warning

People woke up to a hazy, dark southern Alberta Wednesday morning, as smoke from hundreds of wildfires in British Columbia wafted over to blanket the region.

Entire province is under a special advisory from Environment Canada

Obed Pennor trains for a marathon on Wednesday despite the smoky conditions in Calgary. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

For the latest on the smoke situation in Alberta, see: 'Not good for anybody': Southern Alberta air quality remains 'very high risk' to health.

People woke up to a hazy, dark southern Alberta Wednesday morning, as smoke from hundreds of wildfires burning in British Columbia wafted in to blanket the region.

By 7 a.m. MT, the Air Quality Health Index had reached 10+, or high risk, in Calgary, Airdrie and Red Deer. Lethbridge and Medicine Hat were assessed at a moderate risk of five on the index.

All of Alberta is under a special air quality advisory from Environment Canada. Much of nearby B.C. and Saskatchewan are also under the advisory.

The smoke is predicted to continue into Thursday. Air quality is expected to remain poor the rest of the week, though the intensity may vary.

Environment Canada meteorologist Brian Proctor said conditions in southern Alberta are expected to improve gradually throughout Wednesday, but the province will continue to see smoke activity for at least the next few weeks.

"We're going to be looking at continuing to get active wildfire smoke spreading in and fumigating the province from time to time until we manage to bring some moisture and some cool down into British Columbia," he said.

"And they've probably got a good three to four weeks of fire season being very active, still continuing."

An estimated 600 wildfires are burning across British Columbia, forcing evacuation orders and health warnings in that province.The weather authority warns certain people are especially at risk, including children, seniors and people with lung or cardiovascular diseases like asthma or COPD.

Dr. Jason Cabaj, the Alberta Health Services medical officer of health for the Calgary zone, said people with pre-existing conditions should pay close attention to their symptoms. He advised having a good treatment plan in place should they notice exacerbations related to the air quality. 

Environment Canada said that in this smoke, anyone may notice they're coughing more than usual, have an irritated throat and headache or find themselves short of breath.

Cabaj said although some people have been seen wearing masks around Calgary, that might not be the best solution to beating the air pollution.

"Masks can be effective if they're properly fitted. The problem with masks, though, is that they can increase the work of breathing, and especially when it gets hot, then that can be quite challenging to keep them on and use them," he said.

If you have trouble, you're encouraged to stay inside a place that's cool and ventilated. The agency also warns that you may let more polluted air into your home if you open the windows.

Calgarians woke up to a hazy, dark morning as smoke from B.C. wildfires blanketed the city. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Smoked out

The smoke in Calgary forced summer camps at WinSport to move their activities inside — which poses a challenge when the camp is focused on mountain biking.

Christopher Lang, the program lead with Active Lives, said campers will spend the day inside learning about how to repair bikes.

"If the [air quality risk] was lower, we might reduce or reschedule our exposure, but this high, it's best to be indoors," he said.

"This is an education piece for everyone to know that when it is this severe, we need to modify and adapt our programming so that we can play the next day."

Shakespeare By The Bow cancelled its Wednesday evening show of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, saying it hoped the show would go on the following day.

"Because of the physical nature of the show, and in the best interest of the health and safety of both actors and audience, we are unable to perform tonight," a release from Theatre Calgary said.

Marilyn Martin sent in this smoky photo from Gull Lake, Alta. (Marilyn Martin)

But organizers of Calgary's GlobalFest say the smoke won't hinder the schedule of their annual fireworks festival.

Tomorrow night, things are set to go off as planned — and the smoke might actually enhance the pyrotechnics.

"From a fireworks perspective, it actually makes the show brighter in that there's a lot more particulate matter in the sky and that just becomes a reflective surface for the fireworks' star effects," said producer Ken Goosen.

"But it does cloud it out a little bit. So it's brighter, but it's not necessarily as clear."

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