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article imageHard to breathe and hard to see — Pacific Northwest wildfires

By Karen Graham     Aug 21, 2018 in Health
Thick smoke from wildfires in the western United States and Canada have clogged the skies across western North America, blotting out mountains and city skylines from Oregon and Colorado to British Columbia and Alberta.
It has gotten so bad that in some parts of the west, flights have been delayed, sporting events canceled, and even healthy adults are being advised to stay indoors, according to the Associated Press.
But while this is the second summer in a row where people have had to endure the heavy smoke from raging wildfires, officials are warning they will become more common as the western U.S. and Canada face larger and more destructive wildfires because of heat and drought blamed on climate change.
Sarah Henderson of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said that children under the age of 10 should be carefully monitored and kept inside when it is smokey outdoors because their lungs aren't fully developed and are very sensitive. And elderly people may be more affected by smoke because lung function decreases with age, she said, reports the Globe and Mail.
Western U.S. air quality
In Seattle, the Space Needle was covered in a haze of smoke, making it impossible to see the mountains. In Portland, Oregon, residents getting up early were greeted by a blood-red sun shrouded in smoke. Portland-area schools were suspended due to the poor air quality.
And in the Northeastern part of Colorado, and in parts of Idaho, the smoke was so bad it blocked out the mountains and prompted air quality advisories.
Andrew Wineke, a spokesman for the Washington state Ecology Department’s air quality program says that typical summer weather in Seattle keeps smoke pushed out when wildfires are burning, but the weather has not been cooperating and the smoke hangs around, not going anywhere.
It's a rare occurrence that also happened last year, and this is raising concerns for many locals that it may become normal during wildfire season. Wineke said climate change is expected to contribute to many more fires. “The trend is clear. You see the number of forest fires increasing, and so there’s going to be wildfires,” Wineke said. “There’s going to be smoke. It’s going to be somewhere.”
Reduced visibility inhibits the ability to detect new fires and restricts and limits the use of airc...
Reduced visibility inhibits the ability to detect new fires and restricts and limits the use of aircraft. NASA satellite image on August 19, 2018 over Kamloops area of B.C.
Western Canada air quality
The British Columbia government has rated the air quality health index at a 10-plus, or very high risk for areas that include Castlegar, Whistler, Nanaimo, Parksville and parts of the Fraser Valley, the Okanagan and Metro Vancouver. Over the weekend, two triathlons were canceled because of the poor air quality.
Dr. Trevor Corneil, the chief medical officer for Interior Health, the Okanagan’s provincial health-care co-ordinator, said on Sunday, “Elite athletes will face difficulties breathing, some early exhaustion, and in extreme cases if they’re also dehydrated, they may experience confusion from difficulty breathing the air."
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