Air quality registers at 10+ for Calgary as smoke drifts in from northern wildfires – Calgary Herald

Air quality registers at 10+ for Calgary as smoke drifts in from northern wildfires - Calgary Herald
This is what the Alberta wildfires look like from space
Calgary Skyline is covered in smoke from wildfire in northern Alberta on Friday, May 31, 2019. View from Cres Rd NW . Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Calgary

Calgarians woke up with dry throats and watery eyes on Friday morning as heavy smoke blanketed the city.

A separate fire near Slave Lake, Alta. triggered an eight-hour evacuation alert on Thursday. The towns mayor said the flames were about 30 kilometres from town, but officials wanted residents to be ready in case they needed to suddenly leave.

Alberta wildfires: Evacuation alerts and orders in place across the province

Calgary registered a 10+ on the Air Quality Health Index, considered a very high risk, to start the day.

A special air quality statement from Environment Canada, Alberta Environment and Parks, Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services warned of symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches and shortness of breath due to the drifting wildfire smoke which originated in the province’s north.

The images show the vast range of the fires. The largest blaze, which is raging near High Level, Alta., spread to over 2,300 square kilometres on Thursday, growing more than 800 square kilometres from the day before.

Take a look at Albertas out-of-control wildfires from space (PHOTOS)

Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease such as asthma are especially at risk and should avoid strenuous activities outdoors, according to the statement.

That fire is now more than three times the size of Edmonton. About 10,000 people have been forced from their homes, provincial officials confirmed. About half of the displaced residents are from High Level.

It warned that people with lung diseases can be particularly sensitive to air pollution, which can aggravate their conditions and lead to increased medication use, doctor and emergency room visits and hospital visits. Those with breathing difficulties were advised to stay inside, and if possible, to find an indoor place that’s cool and ventilated.

Residents are advised to have any medications or prescriptions, drinking water and food and fuel in their vehicle. They may want to bring identification, passports, insurance policies and other important documents. Pet owners are advised to consider making arrangements for their animals if they have to evacuate.

Those with homes that aren’t air-conditioned should consider going to a public place such as a library, shopping mall or recreation centre, it stated.

The thickest smoke within the city was expected to move northwestward on Friday, but conditions may remain hazy into the weekend. A meteorologist said Thursday that smoke was expected to linger for at least another four to five days.

The Town of Manning, including residents north of from Township Road 910, also known as the North Star Road, south from Township Road 922, also known as Notikewin Road, and everyone west of Range Road 231, was told Wednesday night to be prepared to evacuate on short notice.

“I don’t see a big push in clearing this stuff out until probably early next week,” said Dan Kulak of Environment Canada, noting a change in wind flow is expected early next week for the southern part of the province.

Mandatory evacuation orders were declared at 2 p.m. Wednesday for the following areas at the south end of the County of Northern Lights: north from Township Road 922, south from the Twin Lakes Provincial Campground, west from the Notikewin River.

The air quality rating in Calgary was expected to fall to 5, a moderate risk, by Friday night and to 4 by Saturday.

Calgary’s air quality was so poor on Friday that it was worse than some of the most polluted cities in the world, with a separately calculated Air Quality Index rating of 306 as of 8 a.m. Mountain time.

Considered “hazardous,” that rating was worse than both Delhi and Beijing, which each ranked in the top-10 most polluted capital cities across the globe in the 2018 World Air Quality Report.

“Smoke from wildfires in northern Alberta is causing poor air quality and reducing visibility in some areas,” the statement reads. “In central parts of the province smoke is expected to move back north by Friday morning as the flow shifts to southeasterly.

Smoke from wildfires in northern Alberta moved into downtown Edmonton on Thursday. Ian Kucerak/Postmedia

Due to the special air quality statement in effect, the City of Calgary cancelled all scheduled outdoor activities and events taking place Friday if they cannot be moved indoors. City athletic parks remained open, but individual sport leagues would determine if their activities will continue as planned.

But other events taking place across the city this weekend were still scheduled to go ahead, despite the hazy conditions.

A Calgary Stampeders preseason game scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday would go on, a team spokesperson said.

“The forecast calls for the smoke to dissipate this afternoon and the game is scheduled to go on as of now,” the team said in a statement. “However, the Stampeders and CFL are closely monitoring the situation and will make an announcement if there’s any change.”

The wildfires in Alberta have been burning out of control, and satellite imagery shows the rapid spread of smoke across the province.

The annual 4th Street Lilac Festival on Sunday will also run “rain, shine, or now smoky,” organizers say, adding there would be a high level presence of Calgary police and Alberta Health Services officials in case of emergency.

"The fire up here has been extremely challenging over the last couple of days, weve been forecasting extreme fire behavior conditions and unfortunately over the last two days, thats exactly what we saw. Sort of culminating yesterday is a very large run of the fire towards the south and southeast," said Scott Elliott with Alberta Wildfire.

Calgary will also host Western Canada’s largest motorcycle street festival on Sunday. The event is scheduled to proceed despite the smoke.

The Alberta government is now reporting that the Chuckegg Creek wildfire is now 230,000 hectares in size. At last count, the fire only measured 150,000.

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Calgary Skyline is covered in smoke from wildfire in northern Alberta on Friday, May 31, 2019. View from Cres Rd NW . Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Calgary Azin Ghaffari / Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Calgary

Residents in the Trout Lake area of the Peerless Trout First Nation have been ordered to evacuate immediately and go to Red Earth Creek.

The status of the Calgary Humane Society’s “Dog Jog” on Saturday remains up in the air.

Poor air quality triggers alert

Phil Fulton, manager of community outreach, said the Calgary Humane Society would play it by ear and decide the morning of the event whether or not to proceed.

“Find an indoor place that’s cool and ventilated. Using an air conditioner that cools and filters air may help. If you open the windows you may let in more polluted air,” the statement read.

“Safety of participants and the animals is our main priority,” he said. “This kind of smoke can exasperate dogs that are already at risk of heat stroke.”

Tomorrow: Sunny in the morning, becoming a mix of sun and cloud in the afternoon. There is a risk of a thunderstorm late in the afternoon. Hazy, with a high of 28 C and a UV index of 7. Low of 13 C.

“This would more severely affect dogs like . . . pugs, bulldogs, dogs with shorter snouts,” Fulton said. “If they’re overweight, that kind of thing, already have cardiovascular or airway abnormalities, just making sure that people are educated.”

“For central and southern regions, the thickest smoke is expected to move northwestwards today,” the statement read. “However, conditions may remain hazy into the weekend.”

Last summer, Calgary broke a record for the number of smoky hours within the city as wildfire smoke from B.C. blew east throughout much of August.

“Every year’s got its own personality,” said Kulak, commenting on how common it is for smoke to fill the skies this early in the year. “It just depends on how many fires go.”

Local school principals were asked by the Calgary Board of Education to avoid strenuous activities for students and to consider indoor lunch and recess on Friday.

For schools within the Calgary Catholic School District, all outdoor activities were cancelled and students were kept inside. Students would also be monitored for symptoms of poor air quality such as irritated eyes, increased mucus production in the nose or throat, coughing or difficulty breathing, the school district stated.

The images captured by satellite and shown on Nasa's worldview website, show how the smoke has worked its way west on the jet stream.   Alberta is beset by early season wildfires which began on March 1. The images show how the entire province looks to be completely engulfed in smoke. There are five large areas of satellite “hot spots” that are visible in this natural-colour satellite image collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite on May 29.

Karla Gustafson, medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services Calgary Zone, said the most common symptoms some might experience during the smoke include irritation to the eyes or throat. Additionally, those with pre-existing health conditions might notice that their symptoms are aggravated or amplified.

"Levi was one of Akwesasne’s most respected elders and the remaining survivor of the World War II Mohawk Code Talkers," the Akwesasne Mohawk Council wrote in a statement posted to Facebook. "While stationed in Louisiana, Levi and other Indigenous soldiers received training as code talkers using their traditional first languages."

However, Gustafson said it’s difficult to measure the long-term effects of consistent exposure over time.

"(It) went on a pretty serious run yesterday where it grew 80,000 hectares in about 24 hours and travelled a little more than 22 kilometres between noon yesterday and 4 a.m. this morning," said Derek Gagnon, a provincial information officer. "The average speed would then be around 23 metres per minute."

“It’s hard to gauge these acute wildfire smoke effects, the impacts of those, and correlating that with other exposure to air pollution that happens in an ongoing way,” she explained.

Kovrig, a former diplomat and Asia expert at the International Crisis Group, and Spavor, a businessman, have been accused of colluding to steal state secrets. Canada has repeatedly urged their immediate release, calling their detention "arbitrary." Neither has been permitted access to lawyers or family members.

According to experts, Prairie provinces will see a longer fire season, in addition more frequent wildfires, heat and drought in the coming years, as a direct result of climate change.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rated Helenas air quality as unhealthy Friday morning while the air quality in the Montana cities of Great Falls and Lewistown was rated as unhealthy for sensitive groups such as people with asthma or heart disease.

“On average, we’re going to see a lot more fire and a lot more smoke, but not necessarily every year,” said Mike Flannigan, professor with the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta.

“This is due to human-caused climate change; in particular, warming. The warmer we get, the more fire we see.”

A helicopter drops a bucket of water on the Chuckegg Creek wildfire west of High Level, Alta., on May 25, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Government of Alberta, Chris Schwarz)

Wildfires forcing 10,000 people from their homes in Alberta

Projected warmer and drier conditions across the country mean an extended fire season, and more lightning, which also equals more fire, said Flannigan.

HELENA, Mont. – Smoke from large wildfires in Canadas Alberta province has drifted into five U.S. states and is causing haze and air quality issues.

Calling it the “new reality,” he said fire is unavoidably part of the province’s future. Since the early 1970s, Canada’s area burned has doubled.

While it’s already been a more active year than usual for wildfire activity in Alberta, Flannigan said it’s not uncommon for fire season to start this early, as May is typically the busiest month for burns within the province.

Longer lasting periods of weather stagnations — those without rain — have already had an effect on neighbouring regions in recent years.

Wildfire smoke can harm your lungs, your heart, and maybe even your mental health: research

“Catastrophic fires in California, record-breaking seasons in 2017 and 2018 in B.C., were largely due to this stagnate pattern with the high pressure over the west coast,” Flannigan said.

Wildfire smoke blankets Calgary to Red Deer, bringing very high-risk air quality

He said the rest of the fire season in the province, which could be “historic,” will depend on weather patterns and the amount of rain that falls in Alberta.

“It’s going to take a lot of rain to put these suckers out,” he said. “These fires will probably burn for weeks to months unless we get significant rain.”