Smoky skies advisory issued for Okanagan, Similakmeen and Boundary areas.

The Ministry of Environment and the Interior Health Authority have issued a smoky skies advisory due to smoke from nearby forest fires.

The province is on pace for one of the worst fire seasons on record.

The effects of the 184 active fires being fought across the province are being felt from the “fog zone” declared on the western coast of Vancouver Island to the smoky skies in Penticton, with 40 homes under evacuation orders and approximately 920 homes on evacuation alert.

On Tuesday a small fire popped up in the Smethurst Road area near Naramata, but was put out quickly by fire crews.

The fire was about 10 metres by 10 m in size, and a firefighting crew of three joined by four skimmers (air tankers) out of Penticton were able to put out the small blaze in quick order.

“We received numerous reports from the public and because of that early detection we were able to respond quickly and now it’s a mop-up, so thanks to the public for their help,” said Kayla Pepper, fire information officer with the Kamloops Fire Centre.

Due to the fires surrounding the area the Ministry of Environment and the Interior Health Authority have issued a smoky skies advisory of the Okanagan, Similkameen and Boundary areas due to the forest fire smoke in the area.

Smoke concentrations are predicted to vary widely as winds, fire behaviour and temperatures change.

The Ministry and IHA warn to avoid strenuous outdoor activities and if you are experiencing difficulty breathing, headaches, chest pain or discomfort or a sudden onset of cough or irritation of the throat or nose or mouth to contact your health care provider.

“In smoky skies we are concerned with particulate matter, those are tiny solid or liquid particles that remain suspended in the air for a long time,” said Dr. Kamran Golmohammadi, medical health officer with Interior Health. “The issue is they can go deep in our lungs and lodge there and cause respiratory and cardiac problems.”

Exposure to the smoky air is a larger concern for infants, the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic lung conditions or underlying medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

“If you experience any symptoms the best thing is to use common sense and move to a less smoky area. Usually an indoor environment has less concentrations of particulate matter, especially with the windows and doors closed, but keep in mind if you close the windows and doors the temperature can quickly rise,” Golmohammadi said.

He said using an air conditioner can be helpful, especially those equipped with filters, but not all filters are capable of getting rid of the tiny particles.

The smoky skies advisory remains in place until further notice.

The high fire danger rating in the area prompted Penticton and the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen to implement a temporary fire ban on July 3. Until further notice, all open burning including campfires and fireworks are prohibited in the City of Penticton. Failure to comply with the Wildfire Act can result in a $345 fine.

On Monday 23 new fires popped up in B.C. and the province is cautioning all residents to be diligent with fire safety and report all wildfires to authorities.

Due to elevated wildfire activity and extreme and high fire danger ratings throughout B.C. 70 firefighting personnel are arriving from Ontario to assist with firefighting efforts. There have been 887 fires reported since April 1, more than double the 404 reported wildfires in 2014. The province has spent more than $80 million so far this year battling forest fires.

The Ministry and IHA note that to reduce personal health risk:

  • People with heart or lung conditions may be more sensitive to the effects of smoke and should swatch for any change in symptoms that may  be due to smoke exposure. If any symptoms are noted, affected individuals should take steps to reduce their exposure to smoke and if necessary see their physician. People with symptoms should go to their health care provider, walk-in clinic or emergency department deepening on the severity of symptoms.
  • Use common sense regarding outdoor physical activity — if breathing becomes difficult or uncomfortable, stop or reduce the activity.
  • Stay cool and drink plenty of fluids.