B.C. forest fire smoke drifts as far as northern Ontario

B.C. forest fire smoke drifts as far as northern Ontario

21 August 2010

published by ottawa.ctv.ca

Canada — A pall of smoke from forest fires burning across much of British Columbia has drifted across the Prairies and into northern Ontario, causing health concerns for people hundreds of kilometers away from the flames.

Nearly 250 major forest fires are burning in B.C.’s interior, fuelled by hot, dry winds and a shortage of rain.

The smoke and fine ash from those fires has been blowing eastward, covering cities and towns in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in an acrid grey haze. Officials have now detected smoke from the B.C. fires more than 1,300 kilometres away in northwestern Ontario.

Meanwhile, calmer winds and cooler temperatures have given fire crews a break in their fight to bring the blazes under control, said Gwen Eamer, a fire information officer in Kamloops, B.C.

“Conditions today are much cooler than we’ve seen for the last few days, so we’re looking at much calmer winds, cooler conditions and higher humidity,” she told CTV News Channel. “We have a break in the weather and we have a chance to gain the upper hand on some of these fires.”

Another 100 firefighters from other provinces arrived today to help battle the flames and 200 more are expected Sunday, she said, welcome reinforcements to the B.C. crews.

“It is very strenuous work out there (and) very challenging conditions … and they’re putting in really long hours on the fire lines.”

The drifting smoke from the fires is causing serious concerns for people with respiratory problems, leading health officials to warn those with conditions such as asthma, bronchitis or emphysema to stay indoors.

“There are parts of this city where you can’t see across the street,” said Deb Steele of the Lung Association of Alberta.

“It limits their proposed activities and it limits their daily life,” she said. “We advise them to pay attention to any tickle in the back of their throat, wheezing, chest tightening, coughing and shortness of breath.”

Many people in Prairie communities covered by the hazy smoke are now wearing face masks and even healthy people are being advised to avoid strenuous outdoor activity.

That could throw a wrench into plans for a marathon in Edmonton, where 4,000 runners are due on the starting line Sunday morning.

Marathon organizer John Stanton said the race will go on, but the runners will be advised to take precautions.

“We’ve added additional medical people and we’ve also added additional equipment,” Stanton said Friday. “We’ve been, almost hourly, talking to Alberta Health and monitoring the air quality conditions.”

Environment Canada says the smoke was being driven east by steady winds and a shortage of rainfall that could dissipate the cloud.

But winds are expected to shift to the northwest over the weekend, keeping the smoke from reaching southern Ontario.

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