Wildfire smoke chokes out large swath of Alberta

Albertans are being told to brace for another hazy day as smoke from hundreds of wildfires burning in B.C. wafts east over the Prairies.

Air quality statements have, once again, been issued in much of the province

A thick haze returned to the city of Edmonton overnight Wednesday, triggering air quality concerns. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

Albertans are being told to brace for another hazy day as smoke from hundreds of wildfires burning in B.C. wafts east over the Prairies.

Much of the province is, once again, under a blanket of smoke and haze.

A special air quality statement issued by Environment Canada Thursday morning covers a large swath of the province.

A thick haze is expected to blanket communities from Grande Prairie and Bonnyville in the north to Crowsnest Pass and Taber in the south.  

Visibility will be reduced and air pollution is expected to reach "very high values," throughout the day, the advisory warns.

Edmontonians awoke Thursday to a thick haze hanging like a fog over the city. It had drifted in Wednesday evening, creating an eerie grey sunset and covering some neighbourhoods with a light dusting of ash.   

When day broke, the air quality health index for Edmonton indicated there was a high risk of air pollution.

The forecast for the city included a sunny skies, a high of 25 C and "widespread smoke."

Smoke is expected to dissipate in the north of the province and in the capital region Thurday evening, but will likely linger until Friday in central and southern parts of the province.

Take precautions

The special air quality statement also warns people with pre-existing health conditions to take the following health precautions:

  • Stay inside if you have breathing difficulties.
  • Find an indoor place that's cool and ventilated. Using an air conditioner that cools and filters air may help.
  • If you open the windows you may let in more polluted air.
  • If your home isn't air conditioned, consider going to a public place (library, shopping mall, recreation centre) that is air conditioned.

People may experience symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches and/or shortness of breath. Children, seniors and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk.

 Pollution from wildfires can be extremely harmful, said.Calgary-based family physician Dr. Raj Bhardwaj. 

"Smoke from burning wood, it's made up of very tiny particles that get really deep inside your lungs," Bhardwaj said in an interview Thursday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "The particles are actually smaller than pollen or other dust. 

"Because it gets deeper into your lungs, it causes a lot more irritation and inflammation in the lungs and we know that chronic inflammation plays a big role in a whole bunch of conditions." 

Worst in the world

Last week, thanks to the drifting smoke, Edmonton earned the distinction of having the worst air quality in the world. 

Among the thousands of urban areas in 85 countries ranked, Edmonton had the worst air quality in cities with more than 250,000 people.

According to Berkeley Earth's air quality data, Edmonton beat out cities in India, China and the Middle East, places where cities with poor air quality usually top the list.

At its peak, the city's air quality was about 180 micrograms per cubic metre, about 18 times higher than its average.