Wildfire smoke turns Calgary into hazy hell for asthma sufferers

The wildfire smoke that has blown into Calgary for the third consecutive summer is causing some Calgarians with asthma to consider the possibility that they may have to move somewhere else.

Air quality alert issued Thursday, smoke expected to move back north by morning

Calgary set a record last August, when this picture was taken, with more than 320 hours of smoky skies, making it the the smokiest year recorded in the city. The previous year was a close second with 315 hours of smoke. (Leslie Kramer/CBC)

For local asthma sufferers, the return of wildfire smoke that has engulfed Calgary the past few summers has some thinking it might be time to find a new place to live.

On Thursday, Environment Canada issued an alert that wildfires in northern Alberta were causing poor air quality and reducing visibility in the south, but the smoke was expected to move back north by Friday morning.

Asthma sufferers Chantal Cormier and Kailee Roche say the smoky past few days have brought back memories of last August, when wildfire smoke made breathing so difficult that Roche had to close her business.

"The fire season [of 2018] got so bad, I had to give up my day home of 10 years," Roche said in a Thursday interview she did in tandem with Cormier on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"It was just getting too hard. I couldn't keep the kids inside all day long. It wasn't fair to them. It was getting too hard on me.

"And yeah, last year's wildfire season kind of threw my asthma into a tailspin for this year."

Roche suffers from brittle asthma, a rare form of severe asthma that can be life-threatening.

"I stopped responding to typical medical medications that they give to asthmatics. And so they have to give me far more than they would give the typical person. And it's just a huge risk," Roche said.

"We're also using medications that aren't even designed for asthma on me trying to get it under control right now."

Cormier, meanwhile, didn't make it through smoke season last summer without requiring a trip to emergency when she fainted at work.

"It's just one of those things where unfortunately people are coming in and out of the building, the smoke's coming into the building … and unfortunately the smoke rolls in and and I couldn't catch my breath.

"I just passed out, unfortunately," Cormier said.

"They had to call an ambulance," she added.

Kailee Roche suffers from brittle asthma, a severely debilitating form of asthma. (Kailee Roche)

Roche said breathing with asthma can be debilitating.

"It feels like you have a 20-pound weight sitting on your chest and you're trying to breathe through a straw — and you can only breathe in," Roche said. "You can't breathe out. People think with asthma we can't breathe in. But really, we can't breathe out. So we hyper inflate."

Cormier, meanwhile, has tried just about every treatment imaginable.

"I'm taking two inhalers as well as steroids," she said.  "I've also done a lot of naturopathic things as well as [adjusting my] diet. So I'm trying various things and I think a lot of it's hard-to-take medications. They think you [can just] suffer through it."

Living through wildfire smoke summer after summer is not a sustainable situation for either of them.

"People say stay inside," Cormier said. 'Well, when you're working full time, it's pretty hard to do that."

"You start to wonder [about leaving]," she said. "It is something you need to think about. Your health is No. 1, and if you can't survive the summer, you've got to think about things like that."

For Roche, who wears a nebulizer — it looks a little like a gas mask — to help her breathe, the smoke has reduced her ability to enjoy life in the city.

"I started to really consider it [leaving] in the last two years," Roche said.

Calgary in August 2018, when smoke from B.C. wildfires engulfed the city for most of the month. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

"It's getting too tough. There is no quality of life for four months in the summer. You're breathless all the time. You're on so many medications you aren't functioning properly, and then you're trapped in the house or outside with a mask on.

"It really affects everything. Like it it stops us from living in the summer.

"We become the boy in the bubble."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.



Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email:


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