Smoky skies could clear by the weekend

By on August 9, 2017
Merritt has been blanketed in a haze of smoke for days , but the weather this weekend might change that. (Michael Potestio/Herald)

Merritt has been covered in a haze of smoke for more than a week now, but if the forecast for this weekend is correct that could soon change.

Environment Canada meteorologist Cindy Yu said a low front from the Pacific Ocean is expected to approach the B.C. coast by Saturday, bringing wind and a small chance of showers to the Nicola Valley.

The south westerly winds are expected to push out the smoke that has been hanging over the B.C. Interior, she said.

“In theory, it should improve the air quality for the southern parts of the province,” said Yu.

Wildfires burning around the province has created a large plume of smoke covering the bulk of the southern half of the province, and has sat stagnant for the past week, she said.

“There was just little movement in the air,” she said.

There are currently more than 100 wildfires burning across the province, and while the wind could fan the flames, fire information officer Rachel Witt said the bigger concern is the amount of lightning that may strike.

“Wind is always a concern when it comes to fire activity, so it is a bit off a double-edged sword,” said Witt. “The major concern for us right now [however] is actually the chance of lightning that we might see in the next 48 hours throughout the Kamloops Fire Centre, because that’s not accompanied with precipitation,” she told the Herald Tuesday.

There were 17 new fires that sparked on Monday (Aug. 7), most of which were caused by lightning in the southeast and northeast part of the province, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service.

A smoky skies bulletin issued by the Ministry of Environment and Interior Health Authority has been in place for the B.C. Interior since the end of July.

Though the smoke has had a prolonged stay in the Nicola Valley, air quality meteorologist with the Ministry of Environment, Donna Haga, said people shouldn’t worry too much.

“I think the most important thing is for people not to panic,” said Haga, “If you’re not experiencing any of the symptoms that are listed in the bulletin then there’s really no reason to be alarmed.”

The bulletin calls for people to avoid strenuous outdoor activities and watch for symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pain or a sudden onset of cough or irritation of airways. They should contact their health care provider if any of these symptoms persist.

Exposure to smoke is particularly a concern for children, seniors and those with cardiovascular issues, such as asthma. Those who experience breathing difficulties should stay inside and find a place that’s cool and ventilated.

The province’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) ratings for nearby Kamloops last week reached up to 49. Anything higher than a 10 is considered ‘very high health risk.’ As of Tuesday, the Kamloops rating was back down to 11.

The index is based on three pollutants: ozone, nitrogen dioxide and PM 2.5, which is the measurement of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (very fine), air quality meteorologist Ralph Adams told Kamloops This Week.

When the AQHI is driven up by smoke, it’s the PM2.5 that is driving the figure way up, according to Adams.

There is no monitoring station in Merritt, so data specific to the Nicola Valley is unavailable.

Haga said the AQHI rating is specific to the community it’s measuring and not an indication of the levels in nearby Merritt.

“There [are] lots of communities in B.C. that are experiencing smoke right now, but don’t have that information available to them, and generally the message is to try and use your common sense,” said Haga. “If you look outside and it’s smoky look out for those symptoms included in the bulletin and seek care if you’re not feeling well.”

Mail carriers in Merritt have been trying to complete their routes earlier in the day because the hotter it gets the heavier the air feels, said Merritt post office lead hand Dinai Arnold.

She said delivery to just one route to the Sunshine Valley area was delayed a couple times due to the smoky skies this past week.

“For the most part the girls have been trying the best to get out and get everything delivered,” she said.

As for city workers, director of engineering and public works, Sasha Bird, said no one in her department has mentioned the smoke as being a problem to date.

— with files from Kamloops This Week

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