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Experts offer tips to stay safe amid wildfire smoke across B.C.

Be aware of potential danger as winds push smoke across province
Smoke particles invisible to the naked eye can be inhaled deep into the lungs. (East Pierce Fire and Rescue file photo).

While summer vacations may soon come to an end, wildfire season is far from over.

As of Monday (Aug. 8), there are 54 active wildfires burning in B.C., according to the BC Wildfire Service.

This year, 559 fires have been recorded in the province.

More fires are expected throughout August and into September as dry conditions continue.

However, the flames are not the only danger with the wildfires. The massive amounts of smoke can also cause serious harm.

Soot particles, invisible to the naked eye, can be inhaled deep into the lungs, where they may cause inflammation and irritation. Wildfire smoke can also irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.

Smoke from current wildfires is predicted to impact Fraser Valley into Monday evening (Aug. 8) and Kamloops into Tuesday (Aug. 9). According to B.C. Air Quality Health Index, air quality in these areas is expected to pose a moderate health risk.

Current smoke forecasts show wind is also carrying smoke to areas across West Kootenay, Cranbrook and South Okanagan.

Vancouver Island and additional areas on the mainland, including Vancouver, Abbotsford and Surrey, can expect smoke moving in their direction over the next three days (Aug. 8, 9, 10).

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC), wildfire smoke is comprised of gases and particles that interact and change as they move away from the fire. Of all the pollutants in wildfire smoke, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) poses the most significant risk to human health.

READ MORE: B.C. wildfires: 8 fires of note burning in province’s south

While wildfire smoke can harm anyone, some people are at greater risk. People with pre-existing chronic conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease and diabetes are at higher risk of health problems due to smoke inhalation. People who are pregnant, children and elderly individuals are also at higher risk.

Most symptoms are mild; however, some people may experience more severe symptoms and should seek prompt medical attention. Severe symptoms include shortness of breath, severe cough, dizziness, chest pain and heart palpitations.

There are things you can do to protect yourself and your family from wildfire smoke.

The BC CDC recommends that the public reduce their exposure to smoke and seek cleaner air wherever possible. On days when smoke is particularly heavy, visit public spaces which tend to have cleaner indoor air, and limit outdoor exercise on smoky days. The harder you breathe, the more smoke you will inhale.

Drink lots of water to reduce inflammation, and use an N95 respirator when working outdoors.

Use the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) to evaluate air quality conditions and visit the BC CDC website to learn more about staying safe.

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About the Author: Jenna Legge

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