Early Start for Canada’s Fire Smoke Season
Western Canada’s wildfire season is off and running – in Alberta especially. More than 375,000 hectares of Alberta landscape have burned in 2023 as of early this week.
On Sunday evening, Alberta Wildfire reported 109 active wildfires in the province, including 28 out-of-control blazes, although 19 were being held and 62 were under control. The agency was still looking for origins and at the time, 84 were still unknown, while investigators suspect humans caused 15, and lightning sparked 10.
Cooler weather has helped fire suppression efforts but situation remains volatile.
Although the state of emergency has been lifted, 25 – 30,000 people have been evacuated from their homes and smoke from the blazes has been transported as far as the arctic and down into Eastern Canada.
Cities in the direct vicinity continue to be experiencing high levels of air pollution. Calgary in particular is experiencing unhealthy air quality due to high levels of PM2.5 and PM10.
Normally Calgary sees high levels of Ozone in the air at this time of year – generally caused by traffic emissions reacting with sunlight. There has been a very clear shift caused by the nearby fires. However, as of Tuesday morning, the smoke has been creeping south towards Montana and Washington state.
Fortunately, seeing smoke in the sky does not necessarily mean we’ll be breathing it.
The closer your are to the fire, the higher the probability to be affected. But of course edge cases exist: you may be close to a fire and not be impacted at all depending on the wind and the altitude (if you are below a fire, smoke may only be lifted up). This being said, smoke can also be transported across large distances, even near the ground level, and impact remote location. Several studies have shown pollution levels increased in the NY state due to due to past wildfire smoke being transported from Northwest US/Southern Canada.
When Air Quality hits the Unhealthy category, it’s important to limit your exposure – Health effects can be immediately felt by sensitive groups. Healthy individuals may experience difficulty breathing and throat irritation with prolonged exposure. But what about the long term health effects of wildfire smoke exposure?
So what should you do if you’re facing a city full of smoke? Limit outdoor activity. Keep your windows closed and if you can, use an air purifier, heavy duty air filters in an air exchange or DIY fan set-up.
If you’re anywhere near a wildfire – please check in with your local authorities and follow their instructions. Stay safe and breathe free.
*Calculation is done using AQLI methodology and based on assuming sustained PM2.5 levels of 125 ug/m3 for two weeks and air 5ug/m^3 the remainder of the year.