We have been experiencing warmer and drier weather across British Columbia earlier in the season than usual. The hot weather and dry conditions are a huge reason why we are seeing wildfires and extreme fire danger ratings so early in the season.

The small town of Lytton burned to the ground after breaking National high-temperature records 3 days in a row. The dry conditions are extreme, and surrounding areas in the interior currently have other large fires burning and poor air quality as a result of the smoke.

The Lower Mainland has been lucky in not experiencing unhealthy air quality… so far. With no significant rain in the forecast and very dry conditions, more fires are expected and it is probable that wildfire smoke will spread. This is an opportunity to plan ahead and prepare for unhealthy air quality so that you and your loved ones are safe.

People at higher risk:

The hazards from wildfire smoke vary for individuals. How often a person is exposed, the concentration of the particulate inhaled and the activity level during exposure are all factors that come into play. Everyone responds differently – listen to your body and reduce smoke exposure if it is impacting you.

Both older adults and older pets are more likely to be affected by smoke exposure. Children, also have a higher risk because kids breathe in more air per pound of bodyweight than adults do. Animals with shorter noses, like Boston Terriers and Pugs, have a higher risk of respiratory issues.

Those at greater risk from the effects of unhealthy air quality are:

  • Infants and small children
  • elderly
  • people with pre-existing lung or heart conditions
  • people engaged in strenuous outdoor work or activities
  • pregnant women
  • pets
Prepare For Unhealthy Air Quality: Tips To Keep You And Your Pets Safe

Vancouver, BC, August 22, 2018 – Sailboats moored in late afternoon at English Bay amongst thick forest fire from interior region of British Columbia.

How does poor air quality affect health?

Wildfires can produce dense smoke that contains small particles that can penetrate into our lungs and bloodstream. These small particles are not visible to the human eye.

Milder and more common symptoms of smoke exposure include:

  • Burning eyes
  • Runny nose and sinus irritation
  • Scratchy throat and mild coughing
  • Headache

Smoke exposure has the potential to make it harder to breathe and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, COPD and heart disease.

If you experience any of these severe symptoms, talk to a health professional or seek urgent medical attention.

Signs that your pet might be having difficulty from smoke exposure:

  • Unusual or excessive coughing, sneezing or vomiting
  • Runny nose
  • Difficulty breathing or increased breathing rate
  • Open-mouthed breathing, especially in cats
  • Eye irritation and excessive watery eyes
  • Disorientation or stumbling
  • Reduced appetite or thirst
  • Fatigue or weakness

Tips to keep you and your pets safe when air quality is poor:

  1. Close your windows. Keep the smoke out of, and keep pets indoors as much as possible.
  2. Keep indoor air clean. Use a HEPA air purifier to filter the air in your home, use fans to circulate air or run an air conditioning unit with the fresh-air intake closed. Replace filters as needed to keep the air clean. 
  3. Stay indoors. Public spaces like community centres, libraries, shopping malls and movie theatres tend to have cleaner and cooler indoor air.
  4. Don’t exert yourself. Avoid intense and prolonged outdoor exercise, for both you and your pets. Exercise when dust and smoke have settled.
  5. Limit time outdoors. Keep outdoor bathroom breaks and walks short for pets.
  6. Use an N95 mask to block fine particles, especially if you are working outside.
  7. Check local air quality reports. Listen for local updates from verified sources such as a news station or a government site like Environment Canada or the National Weather Service. Check their Twitter accounts for updates. Click on these links to find the Air Quality Health Index in your region within Canada or the USA.

Most weather reports, including those found on apps, usually include the Air Quality Index when fires are burning in your region. Also, look for a ‘Special Air Quality Statement.’

In General, if you are noticing poor air quality in your area, it is highly likely that your pet is experiencing it. Take the proper precautions for you and your pets and stay healthy!

On another note, the temperatures have cooled down in Metro Vancouver – for a short period. Right now, you might luck out and be able to find a circulating fan in stock. Temperatures are going to rise again. In past seasons, we have experienced very poor air quality during hot weather. With windows closed this can be very uncomfortable. A fan will come in handy!

At the time that this article was released, there were 309 active fires across British Columbia, 26 of those are *wildfires of note, and more than half are suspected to be caused by lightning.

B.C. Wildfire Dashboard

*Wildfires of note are wildfires that are highly visible or which pose a potential threat to public safety.

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