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Record amounts of smoke blanketed parts of Sask. so far this summer


Regina and Saskatoon have already seen record wildfire smoke in 2023, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC).

Regina experienced 223 smoke hours so far this year as of Wednesday, compared to the previous record of 184 smoke hours in 2021. Saskatoon, meanwhile, saw 282 smoke hours in 2023, breaking 1981’s record of 165.

According to the agency, a ‘smoke hour’ is counted when visibility is reduced to 9.7 kilometres or less in smoke in one hour.

Terri Lang, a meteorologist with ECCC, said the smoke in the province is coming mostly from B.C. and the Northwest Territories, with some contribution from Northern Alberta and is nowhere near done.

“The prevailing winds and the upper atmosphere are from the west in the northern hemisphere. That means any direction from the west is going to bring smoke in. It's just a matter of whether it stays high up in the atmosphere or whether it mixes down to the surface and causes a reduction in visibility and bad air quality, that's the hardest thing to predict,” she said.

As of Wednesday, there are 411 active wildfires in British Columbia, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service. In the Northwest Territories, there are 241 active wildfires, according to their government website, and in Northern Alberta, there are 79 active wildfires, according to the Alberta Wildfire Status Dashboard.

According to the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, a total of 18 active wildfires are burning in the province as of Wednesday, with 423 recorded for the year.

Although wildfire season usually ends in September, Lang said not to expect that this year, as wildfires continue with the warmer and drier forecast.

“We can expect smoke to be with us into the foreseeable future, probably until the snow flies,” she said.

Special air quality statements have been in effect for much of the province since the wildfires began.

On Wednesday around 2 p.m., Regina was issued another special air quality statement, with the index listed at a 10+.

Lang said when the air quality health index is expected to be seven or higher, the air quality statements are issued.

“The measurements for air quality are made by the province and the messaging in the statements themselves are provided by Health Canada,” Lang explained.

Jill Hubick, community care and education manager for Lung Saskatchewan, as well as an RN and respiratory educator, said common symptoms that people will experience with smoke exposure include irritated eyes, runny nose, headaches, worsening of allergies, and chest tightness.

“Smoke and poor air quality is not healthy for anyone. Our lungs are meant to breathe in clean air. So we do worry about the impact of people being exposed to so much smoke over a long period of time and having a long term impact on our lungs and body,” she said.

Hubick said people with underlying chronic diseases, such as lung disease and heart disease, will be impacted more by the smoke, as well as young children.

“They breathe at a faster rate than adults do. So they actually will breathe in more of the wildfire smoke and because they have small lungs and small airways, it can have more of an impact on them,” she said, noting that older people are usually more susceptible to chronic conditions.

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She said if people can, they should stay indoors with the windows and doors closed, and put on the air conditioner so the body doesn’t have to work so hard.

“In particular, people don't often think about this when they're driving as well, making sure you put it on the recirculation setting. Otherwise, it's just going to draw the smoke from the outside in,” she said.

Hubick said while most people think of only physical symptoms when dealing with the poor air quality, there’s an impact on mental health as well, with people having reported feeling claustrophobic.

If people must work outside, Hubick said they should take lots of breaks, and wear an N95 mask, which will help block out some of the particles from the smoke.

“For people living with lung disease such as asthma or COPD, it's really important that they have something called an action plan,” she said. “It's a plan that is put together by the patient and their healthcare provider of what to do when they're feeling unwell and what to do when their symptoms worsen and when to seek emergency or medical attention.”

“If you're feeling confused, or drowsy or just extreme shortness of breath, we really want people to seek medical attention immediately.” Top Stories

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