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Wildfire smoke sweeps through Red Deer

Air quality forecast to improve Wednesday
Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement for Red Deer on May 16, 2023 due to wildfire smoke. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)

Organizers of Woody’s RV Marathon are keeping a close eye on the local air quality as wildfire smoke spreads across the province.

About 1,100 participants have registered for Red Deer’s Sunday run that includes a marathon, half marathon, 10k, 5K and kids races.

Early Tuesday morning, Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement for the city due to wildfire smoke.

“We’ll just have to continue to monitor it so people’s health isn’t being put at risk,” said race director Curtis Marquart at about 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday when Red Deer jumped to a high risk of 10 on the 10-plus air quality health index.

Air quality was mostly eight throughout the morning before it climbed to 10. It dropped to a moderate risk for an hour at 1 p.m., before bouncing back up to nine by 4 p.m.

Marquart said he would not be comfortable holding the run if the health risk was high, but the risk is expected to drop down to three, or a low risk, by Wednesday.


Wildfires to impact Red Deer air quality

The biggest health risk from a wildfire comes from small particles in the smoke. These particles can get into a person’s eyes, breathing (respiratory) system, and bloodstream which can cause burning eyes, a runny nose, coughing, trouble breathing or illnesses like bronchitis.

Anyone with heart or lung problems, as well as older adults, women who are pregnant, smokers, children, and those doing heavy outdoor work or outdoor sports can have problems even at lower smoke levels.

Dr. Digby Horne, medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services Central Zone, said wildfire smoke is a combination of particulate matter and other gases. Using a N95 mask can reduce the particles from entering deep into the lungs, but it won’t necessarily protect against those other gases.

He said if air quality doesn’t improve, people with chronic medical conditions who are having a difficult time may want to consider equipping one room that they can use in their home with a portable high efficiency air cleaning system with a HEPA air filter. Look for a device rated for tobacco smoke.


Red Deer Emergency Services sends ambulances to support people affected by wildfires

The City of Red Deer closed Great Chief Park on Tuesday night due to the reduced air quality. Other community sports fields and spray parks remained open as of Tuesday afternoon, but staff were monitoring conditions.

Curtis Schaefer, assistant deputy chief with Red Deer EMS, said the city’s fire ban has helped reduce the local fire risk.

“Our city’s very dry. The hot weather we’re having, and the wind, is keeping things dry,” Schaefer said.

The forecast for Sunday’s marathon is calling for a high of 29 C which is a lot warmer than usual for the run, but the early morning temperature will probably be 8 to 12 C, Marquart said.

“The longer people are out there, the warmer it will get for them. You just have to run fast and finish fast, that’s all,” he said tongue-in-cheek.

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Susan Zielinski

About the Author: Susan Zielinski

Susan has been with the Red Deer Advocate since 2001. Her reporting has focused on education, social and health issues.
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