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British Columbia smoke wafts into Saskatchewan

Jill Colton, staff writer

August 20, 2010 — Billowing smoke clouds, from hundreds of burning fires in B.C., have now made their way into parts of Saskatchewan. Meanwhile the haze is still severely affecting Edmonton and the B.C. Interior.

Hazy skies hang over the city of Edmonton
Hazy skies hang over the city of Edmonton

The ash has travelled almost 1600 kilometers over the past few days.

Acrid smoke from the Interior wildfires has now reached areas in Saskatchewan including La Ronge, Prince Albert and Saskatoon. Airports in the regions have reported the smoke, which is affecting visibility. “The ridge is breaking down, and this has allowed air flow to move freely into Saskatchewan through Alberta,” explains Christina Huang, a meteorologist with The Weather Network.

Meanwhile, the thick swirls of smoke that have enveloped Edmonton, are still hovering over the city.

According to health officials, the hazy conditions have sent a number of people suffering from asthma to the hospital. This has the province's chief medical officer warming people with respiratory problems to remain indoors to avoid the pall of ash and soot that's hanging over the region. Officials confirm that the University of Alberta has seen a significant increase in people coming to the hospital with asthma-related problems, both young and old.

The air has been described as smelling like a bonfire and some complained of stinging eyes. One of our Stormline callers, James from Edmonton, took a walk through the downtown core and described the conditions as such: “It's really, really thick and you can't see the sky and the sun. It is very hazy, hard to breathe and burning your eyes. It smells like you've got the fire in your house on full blast. You can barely see into the valley from the balcony and that is just a couple of blocks away.”

Ash hangs in the air as the sun sets in Edmonton
Ash hangs in the air as the sun sets in Edmonton

On Thursday, the Air Quality Index was drifting between fair and poor and is expected to remain less than ideal for the next few days. The smoke has increased the number of calls to 911 as well. Edmonton Rescue Services say the jump in calls is unusual since the incident doesn't actually involve a fire. People were reportedly donning face masks while attending the Edmonton International Fringe Festival in Old Strathcona.

“We had a ridge coming through B.C. and Alberta, and then came the stagnant air, and as a trough formed and a frontal system developed, the air pushed northwest into Alberta. The smoke then moved into northern Alberta because of the northwesterly winds, and the air behind the cold front,” says Huang.

The acrid haze is expected to last through the weekend - when various outdoor marathons and festivals are set to take place. Officials are warning people to ease up on physical activities, and medical teams are expected to bring additional equipment in for the Canadian Derby Marathon taking place in the city.

B.C. isn't fairing much better from the smoke either. It was snowing ash in Williams Lake on Thursday, triggering Environment Canada to issue the area with the poorest air quality. Some residents complained that the conditions caused coughing and wheezing. On Wednesday, the cold front tracked through the Cariboo Fire Centre, with gusting winds recorded at almost 70 km/h.

However, serious air quality is posing a concern in Kamloops, B.C. As visibility was also affected, six Air Canada Jazz flights were cancelled from the Kamloops airport. Aircrafts are continuing to patrol the Cariboo, on the lookout for any new fires. The good news is that control lines are holding along the critical flanks.

With files from Beverley Ann D'Cruz

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