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Smoke haze settles in valley

Penticton firefighter Will Armstrong waits for the water line to charge before he starts putting out hotspots in a brush fire in the industrial park area of Penticton Thursday afternoon.  - Mark Brett/Western News
Penticton firefighter Will Armstrong waits for the water line to charge before he starts putting out hotspots in a brush fire in the industrial park area of Penticton Thursday afternoon.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Western News

Smoke from far-off forest fires settled over the Okanagan Valley on Monday and contributed to a record-setting spike at an air-quality monitoring station in Kelowna.

The station at Okanagan College recorded an ozone concentration of 96.5 parts per billion, the highest level ever recorded there, according to a report sent to Doug Lundquist, an Environment Canada meteorologist.

He said the reading was taken between 6 and 7 p.m. when the haze over the valley was thickest.  Among other things, high ozone levels can cause coughing and sore throats, plus all manner of breathing difficulties, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Lundquist said the haze was believed to be smoke from forest fires somewhere in Asia.

“From our locally-produced forest fires we don’t usually get ozone, because the big particles that come when you’re near to the source destroy any ozone that’s produced,” he explained. “But when it comes from a distant land, at the top of the layer it can produce ozone.”

Air quality throughout the region is expected to improve with the arrival of a cold front and winds from the north.

The only forest fire burning in the region as of Tuesday morning was a 20-hectare blaze at Spius Creek about 40 kilometres southwest of Merritt, but “that wouldn’t be contributing much, if at all, to the smoke we’re seeing,” said Kevin Skrepnek, an information officer for the Kamloops Fire Centre.

The fire danger rating around Penticton was still rated high as of Tuesday afternoon, although it’s considered to be extreme in some pockets around the region. Last week a fire broke out in the industrial area from a worker grinding or welding that consumed a Class-C motorhome, trees and grass nearby before firefighters gained control.

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