Forest fires in southwestern B.C. and Washington State have caused air conditions that are canceling flights at Pitt Meadows Regional Airport and had the Fraser Health Authority issue a health alert.
Fire smoke hung in the air over Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows early Sunday and Monday, creating a sky that was entirely a haze, with just a pink blot of sun.
Harbour Air’s flight from Pitt Meadows airport to Victoria at 7:30 a.m. on Monday morning had to be cancelled due to limited visibility in the smoky sky. Harbour Air also cancelled other flights in the region.
It was able to offer service in the afternoon, as air quality improved.
Tasleen Juma of Fraser Health said the region’s hospitals have seen an increase in the number of patients attending at emergency wards complaining of respiratory issues, likely caused by a combination of high temperatures and heat.
“It’s extremely rare for us to see air quality like this,” said Dr. Lisa Mu, medical health officer, and Fraser Health’s regional lead on air quality. “It’s a convergence of heat, as well as poor air quality.”
The air quality started as high risk on Monday, but was moderate by the afternoon.
Those at risk include asthmatics, those with heart, lung and other chronic medical conditions, the elderly and infants.
Mu said people with heart conditions can experience difficulty breathing, fatigue, weakness, and swelling in the legs and feet due to poor air quality. It can bring on heart attacks or even strokes.
Anyone at risk should avoid any strenuous activity altogether, she said.
A healthy person can attempt strenuous activity in moderate risk air, but Mu advises they watch for symptoms such as breathing difficulty or weakness, and postpone the activity if they experience them.
Anyone experiencing wheezing or difficulty breathing is advised to seek medical attention.
The air quality advisory will remain in place until weather conditions change.
There is more information about the health authority’s advisory at news.fraserhealth.ca
You can protect yourself by:
• Using common sense regarding outdoor physical activity – if your breathing becomes difficult or uncomfortable, stop or reduce activity.
• Paying attention to local air quality reports. Air quality may be poor even though smoke may not be visible. You can refer to Environment Canada’s website for more information.
• Staying cool and drink plenty of fluids.
• Being aware of your symptoms if you stay indoors. Smoke levels may be lower indoors, however levels of smoke particles will be increased.
• Visiting a location like a shopping mall or library with cooler filtered air. Keep in mind that many air conditioning systems do not filter the air or improve indoor air quality.
• Using commercially available high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters which can improve indoor air quality near the device.
• Activating your asthma or personal care plan if you have asthma or other chronic illnesses.
• Maintaining good overall health to prevent health effects resulting from short-term exposure to air pollution.
• Reducing indoor pollution sources such as smoking or burning other materials.
• Reducing outdoor pollution sources by taking transit, carpooling and minimizing the use of diesel powered equipment.