Smoke dissipating over Island as wildfires rage in B.C.

The haze from forest fires affecting Vancouver Island should continue to lift over the next few days, but that doesn’t mean an end to fire danger around B.C.

“I would say the smoke will be with us at this point for a day or two more at the most,” Environment Canada meteorologist Andre Besson said Tuesday.

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A ridge of high pressure that has been trapping some of the haze is expected to break down, Besson said. He said the ridge should begin to dissipate by Friday, leading to a flow of air that sends much of the haze north.

Also by Friday, Island residents can expect an increase in cloud cover and near-normal temperatures of about 23 C, Besson said. That could lead to showers and thunder showers on the north Island, he said.

The main forest fire burning on Vancouver Island is near Port Alberni, on Dog Mountain. It was human-caused, said Ellie Dupont, a fire-information officer with B.C.’s Coastal Fire Centre. The fire has grown steadily and measured up to 125 hectares on Tuesday, with 33 firefighters and three helicopters at the scene.

The blaze, on a steep slope by Sproat Lake, destroyed a cabin.

Bringing the Martin Mars water bomber out of retirement for firefighting duty in B.C. remains a possibility. The Martin Mars was last used to fight forest fires in 2013.

“They’ve been added to the master contract and that’s where it stands right now,” said Kevin Skrepnek, B.C.’s chief fire-information officer.

Preparation of the Martin Mars for firefighting use was scheduled to begin Tuesday morning. It could be ready to go by Thursday, said Wayne Coulson, CEO of the Coulson Group -- the aircraft’s Port Alberni-based owner.

Skrepnek said crews remain busy around the province, which had a total of 178 active forest fires Tuesday afternoon. He said there were about 60 new forest fires in B.C. over the weekend, and 23 more on Monday.

Despite improving air quality in some areas, a wildfire smoke advisory for the east and south coast of Vancouver Island remained in effect Tuesday. It was issued by Island Health and the Ministry of Environment and is primarily directed to the elderly, infants and people who have existing heart or lung conditions of potential problems. Conditions can be followed at bcairquality.ca.

The Coastal Fire Centre has imposed a complete campfire ban as of noon Wednesday. The previous ban, enacted on June 27, covered most of the centre’s area. It is now being extended to the so-called Fog Zone from Nordstrom Creek to Owen Point near Port Renfrew.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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Update:

A wildfire smoke advisory is in place for the east and south coast of Vancouver Island.

The Environment Ministry with Island Health issued a wildfire smoke advisory for the Island's coast from Campbell River to Victoria, including Port Alberni.

Smoke concentrations will vary widely as winds, fire behaviour and temperatures change, the advisory says.

The province and health authority generally advise limiting strenuous exercise until the smoke clears or to stop outdoor activity if breathing becomes difficult. The advisory particularly targets the elderly and infants and people with underlying medical conditions including lung disease, heart disease and diabetes.

For details go to http://www.bcairquality.ca

READ MORE: Smoke-filled air envelopes southern B.C., as provincial wildfires turn deadly


Original story:

Smoke blanketing southern Vancouver Island is being blown in from raging wildfires on the mainland and not from two major blazes in Port Hardy and near Port Alberni, where evacuation notices are in place.

Meanwhile, there are no air quality alerts posted by the province for Victoria, but Island Health’s chief medical health officer Richard Stanwick said people with underlying lung problems should exercise caution.

Southern Vancouver Island will remain blanketed in smoke until at least Monday morning, says Environment Canada meteorologist Michel Gelinas. The smoke is being blown onto southern Vancouver Island from two major fires 40 kilometres northwest of Whistler and Pemberton, he said.

“The smoke will be hanging around today and tonight and so far as we can tell there doesn’t seem to be air quality issues so far,” Gelinas said.

The only air quality alert posted by Environment Canada is a heavy smoke advisory pertaining to the Northern Health Authority’s North Peace River region because of a wildfire near Fort St. John that is affecting surrounding areas.

Wildfires are burning throughout the province, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service.

On southern Vancouver Island, however, “the smoke is aloft,” Gelinas said. It’s approximately 1,500 to 3,000 metres over southern Vancouver Island which doesn’t have a great effect on air quality, he said.

Some Victorians awoke to thick smoke in the air Sunday and assumed it had drifted down from two major wildfires in northern Vancouver Island — one in Port Hardy and a bigger fire on Dog Mountain on Sproat Lake, near Port Alberni.

Port Hardy remains under a state of emergency and an evacuation notice is in place for Mayors Way and Upper Carnarvon.

The district says the fire did not spread overnight. It is categorized as Rank 1, which means it is a slow-moving ground fire. The main 17-hectare fire is 20 per cent contained on the end closest to town. Ground crews continue to focus on this area, according to the district.

The one-hectare spot fire behind the evacuated homes remains 80 per cent contained.

Paula MacKay, fire information officer for the coast, says the Dog Mountain fire is 35 hectares in size. It’s being fought with the help of 21 crew, three helicopters as well as air tankers.

“The fire is burning aggressively and yesterday was backing down the hill toward cabins,” she said. An evacuation alert is in place for approximately 18 cabins on the peninsula surrounded by Sproat Lake.

Wildfire officials are asking pedestrians and boaters to stay clear of the cabins while they fight the raging blaze.

Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall adds most smoke risk is short term for people with underlying respiratory problems such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “It makes breathing harder and has been shown to increase hospital admissions for cardiovascular symptoms.”

Stanwick said the smoke sitting on top of southern Vancouver Island is keeping this week’s high temperatures down but says for the very old and very young with lung problems, it’s either best to stay indoors or limit physical activity.

“If breathing problems — including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; asthma; chronic bronchitis — are triggered by external factors this smoke could certainly aggravate their underlying disease,” Stanwick said.

People need to exercise common sense and “take it easy” if exposure to environmental factors can aggravate breathing problems, he said.

Vancouver Coastal Health Authority said heavy smoke from wildfires outside the region covers much of Metro Vancouver and eastern parts of the Fraser Valley. However, air quality levels below the mountains are currently good, according to the health authority.

“Continue to enjoy your normal activities today, drinking plenty of fluids and keeping cool,” says an advisory.

Since January, there have been 37 wildfires on Vancouver Island.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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