Smoke from underground fire causes health problems for some Calgarians

Smoke from underground fire causes health problems for some Calgarians

10 February 2012

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Canada — Relief could be on the way for southwest residents suffering through smoky conditions caused by an underground fire burning on the Tsuu T’ina reserve.

Officials say that great strides have been made to control the landfill fire that prompted public health officials to renew a precautionary air quality advisory Thursday.

The fire, believed to have begun early Wednesday when some materials spontaneously ignited in a Class 3 landfill west of the city, blanketed the city’s south side in a smoky haze that has lingered since.

Smoky conditions kept some Evergreen seniors inside all day Thursday.

“It was a just a thick haze,” said Joyce Bezruki whose residence borders Fish Creek Provincial Park. “The smell was so powerful that some of us were getting headaches.”

Bezruki’s neighbour, 77-year-old Marguerite, requires an oxygen tank for respiratory problems, and Thursday the slight senior described the smoke as almost unbearable.

“It cuts off your breath off,” Marguerite said. “It made my breathing harder.”

Alberta Health Services officials have renewed their warning to the public for a second day, saying that the smoke could cause even healthy individuals to experience irritation to the eyes and throat, as well as headaches and possibly shortness of breath.

There was no word whether any hospitalizations had been linked to the smoke, but health authorities cautioned that seniors and individuals with respiratory conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma are more likely to notice a worsening in their symptoms.

“We would expect that there would be some people out there who would have experienced significant symptoms, seeing some of those (air quality) levels that were monitored overnight and in the early morning hours,” said Dr. Brent Friesen, a zone medical officer with AHS.

Late Thursday, Tsuu T’ina officials were able to confirm that progress had been made on the fire, which crews on the reserve have been battling by boring holes into the ground to douse hot spots.

The clean-fill site where the fire ignited is mostly made up of wood and not household garbage, said Tsuu T’ina administrator Kevin Littlelight.

Although there is no immediate concern that the fire could spread, dry conditions prompted the M.D. of Foothills to issue a ban on open fires Thursday that officials say will remain in place until the area receives a substantial amount of moisture.

Check conditions at the Government of Alberta Air Quality Health Index.

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