Vancouver Islanders warned to prepare for smoky skies this summer

With 200 active wildfires in the province, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control is warning British Columbians to be prepared for a smoky summer.

“If we have a certain type of meteorological system that’s going to hold that smoke in the atmosphere and push it around the whole province, I’d expect that would affect the island as well as most of the mainland,” says the BCCDC’s scientific director of environmental health, Sarah Henderson.

Currently, Vancouver Island’s air quality index is low but experts warn conditions can change quickly. The region has been no stranger to wildfire smoke in seasons past.

“We’re fortunate we have clear skies,” says fire information officer Donna MacPherson, “but that’s not the case for people in the Interior.”

The BCCDC is encouraging people to start thinking about their plan “if and when” it gets smoky, so it will be easier to enact.

It suggests having one room in your home where you can expect a reprieve from particulates – like installing a portable air cleaner or putting together a box fan and a filter to filter your space.

“If you’re going to be outside,” says Henderson, “what kind of mask is going to offer you the best protection? Maybe try on a few models right now and then buy a couple so you have them ready to go when the smoke comes.”

Henderson says wildfire particulates are a complex form of air pollution that don’t just irritate your lungs.

“I think [for] a lot of people, it’s easy to understand that smoke would affect your lungs and your breathing – but it can affect your heart; it can affect your brain; it can affect everything.”

One parent, with a 10-month-old baby and 3-year-old child, says a big issue when smoke blows in is finding activities for kids inside.

“There needs to be a lot of physical activity and if you don’t have the space in your house to get that kind of physical exertion out of your kids, then it can get very claustrophobic,” says Ann Frew.

Frew hopes the warning to be prepared remains just that.

So far, CTV News Vancouver Island’s weather specialist says the island is looking good when it comes to holding off the smoke.

“We’re seeing a more normal weather pattern,” says Warren Dean. “Everything is moving west to east. We’re under the influence of a ridge of high pressure which spins clockwise and that actually pushes the smoke away from us.”