A thick, fog-like, smoky haze moved into Red Deer with force on Wednesday, worsening air quality and reducing visibility.
Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement late Wednesday afternoon for the Red Deer, Ponoka, Innisfail and Stettler areas, saying people should be on the lookout for adverse weather conditions and take necessary safety precautions.
The smoke, from wildfires in B.C. and the Northwest Territories, has had an impact on the air quality in Central Alberta for more than a week, but Wednesday was particularly bad with the Air Quality Health Index reaching moderate to high levels.
Visibility in Red Deer was reduced to 10 km as the smoke thickened in the area.
The index ranges from one to 10, with one being the lowest risk and above 10 very high risk.
On Wednesday, it reached seven in Red Deer and most other parts of Alberta.
Only the Grande Prairie, Clairmont, Fort Chipewyan and Beaverlodge areas of Alberta have a higher air quality forecast for today.
The index for today was forecast to reach a maximum of four in Red Deer.
Dr. Digby Horne, Alberta Health Service Central Zone medical officer of health, said it is important for people with or without conditions that could be affected by the smoke to monitor their symptoms and take necessary precautions, such as staying indoors and not performing strenuous activities.
“Everyone should monitor their symptoms and adjust their activities if they’re noticing symptoms,” said Horne. “Whatever they can do to minimize problems with the air, such as avoid running vehicles unnecessarily or avoid unnecessary burning. It all adds up.”
Conditions that would be exacerbated by the low air quality include respiratory conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular conditions, including angina, previous heart attack and congestive heart failure.
“They should follow the direction of their physicians as to what to do if their symptoms worsen,” said Horne. “They can go outside, but monitor symptoms and if you develop anything, then stop doing that. Do less vigorous activity.”
Symptoms could include wheezing, sore throat, minor irritation or sneezing.
Horne said people should first take any prescribed medication and if that doesn’t control symptoms, then they should seek medical attention.
Environment Canada meteorologist Dan Kulak pointed to satellite images, available at http://weather.gc.ca, that show large amounts of smoke coming from the B.C.-Alberta border south of Grande Prairie and Dawson Creek, B.C.
The main culprit of the smoke is Red Deer Creek wildfire, which started in B.C. about 60 km southeast of Tumbler Ridge and now has crossed into Alberta south of Grande Prairie. The Red Deer Creek wildfire is an estimated 82,500 acres and has not been contained.
Closer to home, the Spreading Creek wildfire west of Nordegg is about 17,000 acres large and is currently being held by firefighters.
Kulak said the wind has shifted, bringing in the smoke from the wildfires in B.C. Last week, the smoke was being brought in from the Northwest Territories because the wind was moving south.
“The winds changed direction and instead of getting Northwest Territories smoke, we’re getting B.C. smoke,” said Kulak. “Can’t win.”
For more information on air quality in Alberta, visit http://airquality.alberta.ca or call 1-844-247-7333.