Smoky skies, poor air quality across Canada as nearly 900 wildfires burn

Parts of seven provinces and one territory were subject to air quality alerts Tuesday as smoke from nearly 900 active wildfires caused hazy conditions and health risks.

Environment Canada issued the weather advisories in the morning for major cities including Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa, as well of all of New Brunswick. A stronger smog warning covered much of southern Quebec, including Montreal and Quebec City. By 8 p.m. EDT, the advisories had been downgraded to weather statements about the possibility of “high levels of air pollution due to smoke from active forest fires,” and Ottawa no longer had a statement or advisory in place.

The agency's alerts covered much of B.C.'s interior and northeast, western and northern Alberta, eastern and northern Saskatchewan, Ontario's far northwest, all of southern Ontario, most of southern Quebec, all of New Brunswick, and Thebacha Region in the Northwest Territories.

However, the worst air quality in the country at that time was said to be in Winnipeg, based on the federal air quality health index (AQHI). The city’s poor air quality held up through the evening.

Manitoba's largest city was said to have an AQHI value above 10 Tuesday morning, representing a very high risk to human health. The air quality improved to a level of eight, or high risk, by Tuesday evening. 

Winnipeg smells like a campfire right now. I’ve never experienced smoke like this in my entire life. pic.twitter.com/qR8Asl3ybT

— Renée Rodgers (@ReneeRodgersCTV) July 19, 2021

High-risk air quality levels were also reported Tuesday morning in Edmonton, Regina, Montreal and Quebec City. By evening, only Regina and Quebec City had air quality levels improve to moderate and low risk, respectively.

In all of these cities, the air quality was expected to start improving later Tuesday and through Wednesday. However, there was no sign of any impending rain, which would make a big difference in both reducing the smoke and combating nearly 900 wildfires that have caused the haze. 

Sunset in #Ottawa
Can hardly see the light through the wildfire smoke… pic.twitter.com/XSicMCNFko

— Paul Beckwith (@PaulHBeckwith) July 19, 2021

Nearly 300 wildfires were burning in British Columbia as of Tuesday evening, including one that flared up late Monday, resulting in an evacuation order from the Osoyoos Indian Band. There were 68 wildfires burning in Alberta as of Monday, 171 active in Saskatchewan as of Tuesday, 130 in Manitoba as of Sunday, and 165 in Ontario as of Tuesday evening. Yukon has added eight new fires since Monday with dozens of active fires ongoing Tuesday evening, and the Northwest Territories is battling 37 active fires as of Tuesday evening.

Four fires in Ontario are of particular concern for firefighters, including a 16,000-hectare blaze that is seven kilometres from the evacuated Poplar Hill First Nation.

As is the case with other forms of smoke, smoke from wildfires can be hazardous to human health. Symptoms can include increased coughing, headaches and shortness of breath.

One sunrise today and one was from Oct 2020.

Same location

Zero visibility due to smoke from BC Fires in Calgary today. It you have COPD/Asthma/HeartFailure, please stay indoors.

Call your Doctor if becoming difficult to breathe. pic.twitter.com/SMGwYkbj6v

— Dr. Anmol Kapoor (@AnmolMD) July 19, 2021

There is also emerging evidence that even a little bit of exposure to wildfire smoke may worsen eczema and other skin conditions, and that its fine particular matter is more dangerous to our health than car exhaust.

Environment Canada warns that children, seniors and those with cardiovascular issues are at increased risk of smoke-related symptoms, and that anyone exposed to wildfire smoke should limit outdoor activity and hydrate often.

I never saw this level of smoke in Calgary growing up. Now it’s nearly every summer. pic.twitter.com/kSj20OH0Hp

— Peter Schryvers (@PeterSchryvers) July 18, 2021