The setting sun is screened by a smoky haze over Willow Point Monday evening creating an eerie tableau when framed with Cody LaFrance’s Scare the Crows sculpture.

Smoke expected to lift but advisory lingers

Smoke from a series of wildfires in mainland B.C. will likely continue to impact much of Vancouver Island

Prevailing winds are beginning to relieve smoky conditions that hit Campbell River Sunday.

The Ministry of Environment and Island Health are leaving a wildfire smoke advisory in place until the current weather conditions improve, however.

“We had an overnight marine push that has cleared much of the smoke at ground level,” said Earle Plain, air quality meteorologist with MOE, on Tuesday. “But the smoke remains aloft, so we’ll continue to see the red sun in the mornings and evenings.”

Smoke from a series of wildfires in mainland B.C. will likely continue to impact much of Vancouver Island until there is a shift in the high-pressure system that has lingered over coastal B.C., or until the fires are put out, Plain added.

The ministry and Island Health issued a joint wildfire smoke advisory Sunday afternoon that covers a region stretching from Victoria in the south to Campbell River.

The westerly winds that moved in Monday and overnight into Tueday have provided improved conditions at particulate measuring stations in Victoria, Cowichan and Nanaimo, but Plain said elevated readings were still occuring Tuesday in Courtenay and Campbell River.

A particulate measuring station on Dogwood Street in Campbell River recorded a spike from 12 micrograms per cubic metre to more than 100 micrograms/m3 between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday afternoon — “That’s very high,” said Plain — and Campbell River’s hourly average from 9 a.m. Monday to 9 a.m. Tuesday was 52.5.

Exposure to particulate pollution from wildfires can be a particular risk to infants, the elderly and those who have underlying medical conditions, including asthma, diabetes and lung or heart disease, Island Health reported.

Residents within the advisory area are urged to avoid strenuous outdoor activity, and to contact their health care providers if they experience difficulty in breathing, chest pain or discomfort and the sudden onset of cough or irritation of airways.

Residents with asthma or other chronic illness are urged to activate their asthma or personal care plan.

The advisory includes Port Alberni, which is impacted by its own forest fire on Dog Mountain, near Sproat Lake. Another Island fire, which caused the evacuation of nearly 200 residents in Port Hardy over the weekend, has been partially contained and residents have been allowed to return under an evacuation alert. No air quality advisory is posted for the Island north of Campbell River.

All of the smoke impacting the east side of Vancouver Island is coming from the mainland, and has been funneled into a single, large plume.

“There are a lot of different sources of smoke causing issue on the Island and the Sunshine Coast,” said Plain. “It’s coming from the Penticton fire, the Pemberton fire and the Sechelt fire, and it’s shooting across the strait through all these inlets.”

Plain said satellite imagery from Sunday showed the smoke pushing through Sechelt and striking the Qualicum/Parksville area before flowing south. Since then, however, winds have shifted to the west.

“With the shift to westerlies, we’re seeing that plume pushed to the north,” Plain said Monday afternoon. “Courtenay is getting slammed right now, and it’s on the way to Campbell River.”

Long term, Plain said, the high pressure system that has lingered over the Island will remain for the foreseeable future, meaning relief from the smoke will be dependent on surface winds — and on the efforts of firefighting crews.

The current improvement in conditions at ground level will benefit those with at-risk health conditions, but Plain warned that conditions can remain variable as long as the fires continue to burn.

“The thing about wildfire smoke is that it really changes quickly,” he said. “You can have one good hour, and then it gets bad again.”

Real-time air quality information, including readings from the Dogwood monitoring station, is available online at www.bcairquality.ca.