Lisa Varano, staff writer
August 23, 2010 — People in western Canada are breathing easier as smoke from B.C.'s wildfires clears away.
Firefighters in British Columbia are trying to take advantage of the cooler weather to attack the difficult wildfires that have been spreading smoke across the west. Hundreds of fires are still burning in British Columbia and consuming tens of thousands of hectares.
The wind had been pushing smoke from B.C.'s interior all the way to the Prairies, but air quality significantly improved over the weekend, when the wind direction changed. Rain and thunderstorms also helped to clean the air.
“The precipitation will not extinguish these fires but it does provide firefighters with a window of opportunity,” according to a statement from the Cariboo Fire Centre in British Columbia. About 2,000 firefighters are battling the enormous and dangerous forest fires.
And the firefighters are making progress. Fire guards were constructed and hot spots were extinguished around the Pelican Lake fires on Sunday. Access to that area was still restricted, but an evacuation order for the wider Cariboo area was downgraded to an alert over the weekend.
Air quality has improved dramatically in B.C.'s interior. The Air Quality Health Index forecast is expected to be in the low to moderate risk range in most places today. But just days ago, it was raining ash in Williams Lake.
Skies have also cleared in Alberta, where the smoke had made it difficult to see the sky in places like Edmonton late last week. The city's annual marathon went ahead as scheduled yesterday and monitoring stations were reporting good to fair conditions through much of the province.
The smoke also blew into Saskatchewan Thursday, prompting several warnings for people with respiratory problems. Conditions over the weekend had returned to 'good' after a cold front in British Columbia moved east triggering thunderstorms and cooler temperatures.
With files from Andrea Stockton