Smoky skies over Calgary prompt 'very high risk' warning

Smoke from wildfires in the northwestern U.S. and British Columbia is continuing to waft over the mountains, prompting Environment Canada to raise its air quality health index to 10+ — very high risk — for the Calgary area on Tuesday.

Environment Canada air quality advisories cover southern Alberta

Forest fire smoke from the northwestern United States and B.C. is expected to reduce visibility and create poor air quality over much of southern Alberta again on Tuesday, Environment Canada says. (CBC)

Smoke from wildfires in the northwestern U.S. and British Columbia is continuing to waft over the mountains, prompting Environment Canada to raise its air quality health index to 10+ — or very high risk — for the Calgary area Tuesday.

At-risk populations as well as children and the elderly should avoid strenuous activities outdoors, the agency is warning. Everyone else should reschedule outside strenuous activities outdoors, "especially if you experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation," the agency says on its website.

Special weather advisories are also in effect for much of the rest of southern Alberta because of the poor air quality.

Health officials warn that even healthy people might experience temporary irritation of the eyes and throat, and possible shortness of breath.

"Certainly, if you have one of those underlying conditions — such as asthma, emphysema — you're going to want to avoid the environment as much as you can so stay inside, limit your activities, use re-circulated air where you can," said Dr. Rohan Bissoondath, a physician with Preventous Collaborative Health.

An air quality advisory for the Calgary zone issued by Alberta Health Services on Monday remains in effect.

Environment Canada says even healthy people might experience temporary irritation of eyes and throat and possible shortness of breath because of the smoky skies. (CBC)

To reduce exposure to the poor air conditions, the Environment Canada said people should:

  • Close and lock all outside windows and doors, including attached garage doors.
  • Turn down furnace thermostats and furnace fans to the minimum settings, keep fresh-air intakes on and air conditioners closed and filters clean.
  • Switch all floor registers to the closed position.
  • Close dampers on wood burning fireplaces.
  • Do not use wood burning fireplaces, wood stoves or other smoke-producing appliances, including candles.
  • Keep windows and vents closed when driving.
  • Run car fans on re-circulate mode to avoid drawing in outdoor air.

Globalfest will go on

The Calgary Fire Department has issued a ban on fire pits, recreational campfires and other wood-burning devices to minimize additional smoke adding to the poor air quality, officials said in a release.  

Organizers of Globalfest said Tuesday night's show will go on despite the air-quality warning. Fire officials have assured Globalfest that fireworks are excluded from the current ban.

Environment Canada has said the air quality index will be lowered to seven by this evening. However, there will be masks available for purchase at the Global Fest first-aid tent by the RONA VIP gate, and eye wash stations readily available at Elliston Park 

Day camps move inside

The poor air quality is forcing summer day-camp operators around Calgary to make adjustments.

"We have moved some of the games inside as a precaution and we are closely monitoring the camps who are outside," said Logan Jones, youth programs manager at the University of Calgary.

"If there is any indication of breathing problems, we will move them inside but so far have not needed to do so."

Children taking part in camps at Canada Olympic Park are doing more inside activities and are being allowed outside for no more than 20 minutes at a time, Winsport spokesman Dale Oviatt told CBC News.

"For example, the mountain bike kids are doing more indoor bike repairs/maintenance and other activities. Our camp counsellors also have lists of kids with asthma that we monitor," he said in an email.

Environment Canada says the air quality health index values for Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Red Deer are all listed as high risk. (Environment Canada)