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B.C. Interior breathing in wildfires, burning buildings, toxic fumes

Fire captain, Ministry of Health urge limitations on time outdoors
People wear masks due to poor air quality as smoke from the McDougall Creek wildfire fills the air in Kelowna, B.C., Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Okanagan and Shuswap residents in particular are urged to limit their time outdoors due to smoke.

There is a very high health risk due to an air quality rating of 10 plus.

“The smoke is pretty heavy right now,” said BX-Swan Lake Fire Rescue Capt. Scott Lypchuk.

“And the smoke isn’t just tree smoke, unfortunately.”

Due to structures burning and the Glenmore landfill, people are breathing in toxic fumes.

“There’s a lot of things in the smoke you don’t want to breathe,” said Lypchuk, urging people to wear masks when outdoors and stay inside as much as possible.

“Just limit your time outdoors.”

The Ministry of Health issued an advisory Sunday urging people throughout the province to stay safe from the impacts of poor air quality due to wildfire smoke and check on family and friends who may be at risk.

Those with pre-existing health conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, heart disease or diabetes, people with respiratory infections, pregnant people, infants and children, and older adults, are at greater risk of health impacts from wildfire smoke.

Anyone who requires rescue medication, especially for respiratory conditions such as asthma, should ensure they have supplies on hand. If you have been evacuated, or do not have enough medication, visit your local pharmacy for an emergency supply.

The best way to stay safe from the impacts of wildfire smoke is to reduce exposure:

• Prevent wildfire smoke from entering your home by sealing doors and windows and keeping them closed as long as the temperature indoors is comfortable.

• Learn ways to create an area in your home designated as having cleaner air by using a portable HEPA air filter or a do-it-yourself air cleaner using resources on the BCCDC website.

• Spend time indoors, such as shopping malls, community centres and libraries.

• Take it easy. Refrain from over-exertion that causes heavy breathing and inhaling unnecessary smoke.

• Keep hydrated to help your body deal with inflammation caused by wildfire smoke.

• Consider wearing a respirator or other types of multi-layered face mask when you go outdoors.

• Know the forecast and use the smoky skies bulletins and air quality health index (AQHI) to evaluate local and regional air-quality conditions

Smoke can make it harder for your lungs to get oxygen to your blood. It can also irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Fine particulate matter in wildfire smoke matter carries the greatest risk to people’s health because it can be inhaled deep into the lungs and cause inflammation and irritation.

People respond differently to smoke. Most symptoms are relatively mild and can be managed without medical attention. If you are experiencing difficulty breathing, chest pain or discomfort, or severe cough, call 811 or contact a health care provider. If you are having a medical emergency, call 911.

READ MORE: Merged Bush Creek East fire behaviour decreased, visibility a challenge

READ MORE: Okanagan wildfires: what you need to know for Sunday, Aug. 20


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Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

20-year-Morning Star veteran
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