Wildfire smoke blankets B.C. and Alberta, prompting air quality advisories

About 25 new wildfires were sparked between Monday morning and midday Tuesday

Smoke from British Columbia wildfires blanketed part of western Canada from Vancouver Island to central Alberta on Tuesday, prompting air quality advisories in both provinces.

While much of B.C. has been under air quality warnings for days, Environment Canada said Tuesday all of western and central Alberta, including Calgary and Edmonton, will have poor air quality because of smoke from hundreds of B.C. fires.

The national weather agency warned that people may experience coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath, and children, seniors and those with cardiovascular or lung diseases are especially at risk.

“Pollution can aggravate their diseases, leading to increased medication use, doctor and emergency room visits,” the agency said in a statement. “Stay inside if you have breathing difficulties. Find an indoor place that’s cool and ventilated.”

Metro Vancouver regional district also extended an advisory for the region and the Fraser Valley because of high concentrations of fine particulate matter due to smoke.

READ MORE: A look at B.C. wildfire smoke from space

READ MORE: Wildfire smoke brings in air quality advisory for Lower Mainland

Residents in Vanderhoof in central B.C. reported thick smoke and black ash falling on Monday night due to fires including a 315-square-kilometre blaze west of the municipality, said fire information officer Ryan Turcot.

Some 564 wildfires were burning across B.C., displacing about 3,000 people and forcing nearly 18,000 more to be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.

About 25 new wildfires were sparked between Monday morning and midday Tuesday, slightly less than in recent days, Turcot said. On Saturday alone, 143 new wildfires ignited.

There were 3,478 crew members working on the fires, including frontline firefighters and support workers behind the scenes. The federal government has agreed to send 200 troops to help with mop-up of contained fires, freeing BC Wildfire Service crews and other firefighters to head to more active fires where extra resources were necessary, said Turcot.

Hundreds of troops also pitched in last summer during the worst wildfire season on record in the province. But calling in the Armed Forces is relatively rare, he said, with the last time prior to 2017 believed to be in 2003.

“By the time we’ve looked at requesting federal assistance, that’s indicative of a well above-average fire season,” said Turcot.

The service has responded to about 1,792 wildfires in B.C. since April 1, compared with about 1,000 this time last year. But less land has burned, with 3,760 square kilometres scorched this year compared with 7,290 last year.

Lightning has sparked most of this year’s blazes but some 404 are believed to have been caused by humans. Turcot urged people to obey campfire bans and avoid any activities that could start new fires.

“That’s 404 human-caused wildfires that never had to happen,” he said.

“Given the amount of wildfires on the landscape that we’re already dealing with, the last thing we need thrown into that mix is more preventable human-caused wildfires.”

The Canadian Press

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