Northern fires cause air quality issues in Prince Albert

Jodi Schellenberg
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As the forest fires in the Northwest Territories and northern B.C. rage on, smoke is causing issues in the Prairies.

This graphic, created by the British Columbia provincial government, shows the smoke travel pattern at about 4 p.m. on Friday. The green shows the smoke, which travelled down from the Northwest Territories.

Prince Albert resident may have noticed poor air quality in the city, with foggy skies and a reddish sun in the sky.

“Today has kind of been the worst day we have seen for the sun to be that colour and things like that,” said Brent Krayetski, a provincial wildfire co-ordinator. “Usually when it gets to be an issue for health, the health ministry will be putting out some kind of advisory or environment Canada also issues a smoke advisory as well.”

There was an advisory issued on Friday, telling the public there was reduced visibility and moderate air quality values of four to five due to high particulate matter.

Krayetski said it is possible the air quality issues could stay with us for a while.

“Until the airflow patterns change, we are likely to see this for a number of days,” he said. “They just haven’t received any precipitation up there so the fires are kicking up a lot of smoke right now.”

Since there are air quality issues, Dr. Khami Chokani, the medical health officer for the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region, said there could be some health risks for people.

“When we have such kinds of smoke events, as one would call them, the people who are at risk are essentially -- everybody is at risk -- but in particular those with some preexisting respiratory or heart conditions,” he said.

These preexisting conditions could range from asthma to reactive airway diseases.

“If they are at risk or if they are not sure and you really want to take the appropriate precautions, one thing is of course to reduce or avoid strenuous outdoor activities,” Chokani said. “This is especially like when you start doing something outside you will notice you start getting some irritation in the throat or coughing. Then really, that means you should be indoors.

“This one would see it more with children and with the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions.”

People will also want to be careful indoors, limiting the amount of smoke that may enter their home.

“In other words, if your windows are open, close them,” he said. “If your vent system is bringing in air from outside and you actually are not feeling any better, then I would say you need to redirect the system so it doesn’t bring in the outdoor air and just recirculates the air in the house.

“If you aren’t able to do that, then maybe you can go to the mall that has air conditioning, the library and those kinds of places.”

Many people may think they can stop the smoke from entering their lungs with different types of respiratory devices, but Chokani advised against that.

“Remember that, even if you do try to put on a mask or a bandana or a cloth that is wet, that is not going to help,” he said “The best thing is getting out of that environment.”

Another reminder Chokani gave was to remember to still wear sunscreen and bug spray.

“Just because it looks smoky outside and hazy doesn’t mean you don’t put your sunscreen on -- put it on. You can still get burned,” he said. “The mosquitoes and these other bugs will be around too. They will come and they will still bite you. Don’t forget to put on you insect repellant.”

Organizations: Prince Albert

Geographic location: Canada

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