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Metro Vancouver Air Quality: US Fire Sends Smoke North

Metro Vancouver Air Quality: US Fire Sends Smoke North

A fire in Washington, estimated to be 11,000 acres in size, is sending smoke across the border.

Metro Vancouver is experiencing fog due to smog and smoke from a wildfire in the United States.

On Monday, Metro Vancouver issued an air quality warning due to elevated ground-level ozone (smog) concentrations caused by warm weather and local emissions.

The advisory remains in effect for regions in the northeast and southeast, including the Tri-Cities, Maple Ridge, Surrey and Langley, and in the Fraser Valley up to Hope.

A wildfire raging near Lake Chelan in Washington state is estimated to be 11,000 acres in size and is sending smoke across the border.

Armel Castellan, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, says there may be a smoke component moving into the eastern side of the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.

“This is a super-stagnant air mass,” he says. “There’s a partial element of smoke and just stagnant pollution, and some of that pollution is in the form of NOx, which is converted to ozone and becomes ‘smog.'”

The US National Weather Service has issued a warning for critical weather conditions that could lead to fires.

The warning states that a dry and unstable air mass with high temperatures could contribute to active fire behavior below the border in the United States and all the way to the Whatcom and Abbotsford areas.

“If a fire starts, it is likely to spread quickly,” the warning reads.

“In Western Washington, significant growth of existing fires is occurring under such conditions. If a fire were to occur, the surrounding air quality could be degraded,” the warning said.

The Air Quality Health Index predicts a moderate risk for Metro Vancouver (northeast and southeast), Central Fraser Valley and Prince George on Tuesday and Tuesday evening.

When air quality will improve is “a bit of an uncertain factor,” according to Castellan.

“Tonight we’re going to have some pretty strong winds of 40, maybe 50, with gusts in the Juan de Fuca Strait, which will get the process going,” he said.

It could clear up on Thursday morning, but new forest fires and the situation with existing fires are affecting air quality, he says.

“New fires would obviously create more smoke in different places,” he said. “There are a couple of parts to the answer.”

“Temperatures will rise slightly over the weekend,” he adds. “It’s not heat alert criteria, but it will still be quite warm.”

Heat warnings are currently in effect for much of British Columbia and Alberta.

Castellan expects a longer period of warm weather.

“It’s definitely warmer than seasonal,” he says. “It’s not a high risk… but it’s still a moderate risk.”

People who work outside, older people who live in buildings without air conditioning, and people with chronic health conditions should be aware of the heat and prepare.

The City of Vancouver has opened cooling centres where people don’t have to register. They can just show up. The City of Richmond also has cooling centres, as does the City of Burnaby.

Below is a list of things people can do to stay safe during the heat and air quality advisories:

  • Take it easy and limit your outdoor movement, because the deeper you breathe, the more air pollution you inhale.

  • Stay in cool, air-conditioned areas, especially in the afternoon when ozone levels are highest.

  • Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated can help relieve some respiratory symptoms.

  • Continue to treat any existing chronic health conditions such as asthma, COPD or other lung diseases, heart disease, and/or diabetes.

  • Reduce sources of indoor air pollution, such as smoking and vacuuming.

  • Face masks worn to protect against COVID-19 offer little protection against gases such as ozone.