Smoke blankets the skies in Cranbrook, as seen from the main highway on the weekend. (submitted file)

Smoky skies expected to last several days across East Kootenay

Smoke from western U.S. wildfires has blanketed much of B.C. for the past several days

East Kootenay residents can expect to live with smoky conditions for the next few days due to smoke blowing in from the western United States.

A special air quality statement is in effect for the East Kootenay region, north including Invermere and south including Cranbrook.

According to Environment Canada, smoke impacts due to long-range wind gusts from wildfires in the U.S. have been observed across the province including Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland and portions of the Interior.

According to the National Fire Protection Association’s interactive map, there are hundreds of fires burning across the western United States at this time. Some are located directly near the Canada/U.S. border and span all the way from the coast to Montana and North Dakota.

READ MORE: U.S. wildfire smoke blankets B.C., wafts east to Alberta, affecting air quality

Localized impacts from the Talbott Creek, Woodbury Creek and Doctor Creek fires continue to be expected as well.

Carmen Hart, Meteorologist with Environment Canada says that the next two days look very bad for air quality with ratings at extreme.

Interior Health’s Air Quality Health Index shows that as of Monday, health risks are rated at 10 or high in the Cranbrook region. Their scale rates air quality from 1 to 10+, with 1-3 being low risk, 4-6 being moderate risk, 7 to 10 being high and 10+ being very high.

“Our air quality models can only project two days at a time, so for the next two days we can definitely expect these smoky conditions,” Hart said. “We might see a change on Wednesday, but at this time we are uncertain.”

She adds that there are two main issues causing the smoke to linger.

“The issue is that right now there is a lot of smoke and it can get trapped,” Hart said. “Also, the source is still on fire. As long as those fires are burning, there will be smoke.”

She says if the smoke does dissipate over the course of the week, East Kootenay residents can expect other smoky sky events in the near future. The Doctor Creek fire located near Canal Flats, for example, is also contributing to smoky conditions.

“The U.S. fires are affecting B.C. on a large-scale but the Doctor Creek fire is definitely influencing Cranbrook,” Hart said. “No rain is forecasted in the near future. We may see some trace amounts over the weekend, but nothing significant.”

Environment Canada says if you or someone in your care are exposed to wildfire smoke, consider taking extra precautions to reduce your exposure. Wildfire smoke is a constantly-changing mixture of particles and gasses which includes many chemicals that can harm your health.

Smoke pollution can worsen symptoms for those who have pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, allergies and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, says Interior Health.

Typical symptoms may include, but aren’t limited to, difficulty breathing, chest pain and discomfort, coughing as well as irritated eyes, nose and throat.

“Smoke can also worsen cardiac disease. Inhaled particles trigger the release of chemical messengers into the blood that may increase the risk of blood clots, angina episodes, heart attacks and strokes,” said Interior Health in a press release. “People with chronic cardiac conditions are more susceptible to chest pain, heart attacks, cardiac arrhythmias, acute congestive heart failure or stroke.”

IH advises those who are experiencing symptoms due to the excessive smoke to take medications as prescribed and use a rescue inhaler if one has been prescribed as well.

“You should not take more medication, or take it more often than prescribed,” says IH.

Consider leaving the area until the air is clear again if you are somewhere where smoke particulates are significant, IH adds, or if the smoke is making you sick.

People should stay indoors whenever possible and close the windows if they can, as well as limit or eliminate outdoor exercise until the air clears.

Interior Health is also advising schools to ensure students are situated appropriately apart, keep classroom windows closed, encourage students to wear masks, and restrict outdoor physical education and limit indoor physical education to lower intensity activities.

If you are experiencing symptoms and are concerned, contact your health care provider or walk-in clinic. If your symptoms are severe, seek emergency medical attention.

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