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 on 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.
Residents in Vanderhoof in central B.C. reported thick smoke and black ash falling on Monday night as a result of 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, Mr. 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, Mr. Turcot said.
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,” Mr. Turcot said.
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. Mr. 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.”
DROUGHT RATING FOR EASTERN VANCOUVER ISLAND REACHES HIGHEST WARNING LEVEL
The drought rating for eastern Vancouver Island has reached the highest warning level as hot and dry conditions persist.
A Level 4 drought classification indicates conditions are extremely dry and that the water supply won’t meet economic or environmental needs.
The Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations says a number of streams on Vancouver Island are at or near record-low flows for this time of year and recent rain hasn’t helped.
It says water users on all streams are reminded to ensure that intakes are screened to the standards set by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to prevent fish from being pulled into systems as water levels drop.
The drought rating for northern B.C. and all along the coast, including Haida Gwaii, is rated at Level 3, or very dry, where potentially serious consequences due to lack of rain could result.
The province is urging residents, industry, farmers and municipalities to voluntarily reduce water consumption.
It says if that doesn’t maintain flows above critical levels, the province may consider regulating water usage, which could include the temporary suspension of water licences or short-term water approvals.