For most of the day, the city registered a 10+ on the Air Quality Health Index, considered very high risk. 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 wildfire threatening Manning is called the Battle Complex Fire. As of Friday, it was about 52,000 hectares and still several kilometres to the northwest of Manning. Shifting winds and thick smoke remain big challenges for firefighers, who have come from as far away as Kenora and Timmins to help.
It prompted the City of Calgary to cancel all scheduled outdoor activities and events taking place Friday if they could not be moved indoors. City athletic parks remained open, but it was up to individual sports leagues to determine if their activities would continue.
However, Alberta Wildfire said heavy smoke Thursday over the wildfires in the Slave Lake forest area reduced the “fire behaviour intensity.” As of 1 p.m. Friday, “overall fire behaviour of these wildfires was low to moderate, and they were not spreading significantly.”
Calgary Minor Soccer Association cancelled all of its Friday night games, and called on coaches to reschedule those games as they would for any inclement weather situation. The association promised to update parents by 11 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday for games scheduled for the following day.
Nearly 400000 hectares of Alberta currently burning out of control
The association also chose to cancel its Minifest soccer festival on Saturday because of the uncertainty of the air quality. The group is hoping to reschedule the event and will provide more details when available.
About 5,000 people have been out of their homes in and around High Level in northwestern Alberta for more than a week. This week even more people from that region, as well as from near a separate wildfire by Manning about 250 kilometres to the south, were told they had to leave.
Despite the hazy conditions, other events taking place across the city this weekend were still scheduled to go ahead.
The annual 4th Street Lilac Festival on Sunday will 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.
Calgary will also host Western Canada’s largest motorcycle street festival on Sunday. The event is scheduled to proceed despite the smoke.
The status of the Calgary Humane Society’s “Dog Jog” on Saturday remained up in the air.
Phil Fulton, manager of community outreach, said the society would play it by ear and decide the morning of the event whether to proceed.
“Breathe easy, air quality has remained good all week long and it looks like that’s going to be the case on Thursday and into the weekend as well,” he adds. Meantime, all air quality advisories in the interior — related to the wildfire smoke in Alberta — have now been dropped.
“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.”
“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.”
Animation on FireSmoke.ca shows the anticipated spread of smoke from wildfires in northern Alberta from Friday to Sunday. By Sunday, the heaviest concentration of smoke is forecast to move out of the Calgary region. Courtesy FireSmoke.ca
The Calgary Zoo said it was taking “extra precautions” to ensure the health and safety of its animals, with some animals kept inside Friday.
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.
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.
Looking south across the Centre Street bridge, smoke shrouds downtown Calgary on Friday. Al Charest/Postmedia
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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.
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.
However, Gustafson said it’s difficult to measure the long-term effects of consistent exposure over time.
“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.
Tucker stated that the Chuckegg Creek Wildfire, the largest fire currently burning in Alberta, had grown to 230,000 hectares as of this morning, and had been spread south by 30 km between noon on Thursday and 4 am Friday morning — a rate of 23 metres a minute.
Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease such as asthma are encouraged to avoid strenuous activities outdoors in the smoky conditions.
Those 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. People with breathing difficulties were advised to stay inside, and if possible, to find an indoor place that’s cool and ventilated.
AHS said the smoke didn’t seem to cause a surge in hospital visits Friday, despite an increased number of calls through its Health Link service.
“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.
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.”
According to experts, Prairie provinces will see a longer fire season, in addition to more frequent wildfires, heat and drought in the coming years, as a direct result of climate change.
In northern Alberta, fires have forced more than 10,000 people from their homes — more than twice the number from the day before. Another community, Trout Lake, was put under evacuation order early Friday as the fire moved "rapidly north."
“On average, we’re going to see a lot more fire and a lot more smoke, but not necessarily every year,” said Mike Flannigan, a 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.”
Projected warmer and drier conditions across the country mean an extended fire season, and more lightning, which also equals more fire, said Flannigan.
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.
It turns out that the wildfires currently burning north of Edmonton (because there are a few) are so big that theyre visible from space — as shown in these satellite images from Zoom Earth.
Longer lasting periods of weather stagnations — those without rain — have already had an effect on neighbouring regions in recent years.
“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.
Albertans are being asked to refrain from these seriously dangerous actions, and fire bans have been put into place in the hopes that the number of wildfires this year will be limited.
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.”