Hay River copes with smoke – More humidity and warmer weather are affecting the air quality in town

Smoke billows from the trees on the highway towards the NWT/Alberta border billows up towards the sky as it travels north from the forest fires in northern Alberta on July 8.

As of Monday, smoke particles from the forest fires in northern Alberta were still blowing north and causing hazy conditions and this has some Hay Riverites wondering how to breathe safely.

Throughout the past two weeks, smoke has been drifting through the southern NWT. People with increased sensitivity to smoke and irritants in the air are affected by the particles in the air.

There are air quality monitoring stations in Fort Liard, Fort Simpson, Yellowknife and Inuvik, but not in Hay River. That doesn’t matter, said Dr. Andre Corriveau, the NWT’s chief public health officer.

“Monitoring wouldn’t give you more info at this level,” Corriveau said Monday. “The minute you start smelling it and if it’s causing irritation, it’s already at the stage where it could be harmful. It might give you a number, but we have to wait until the wind changes direction or the fire stops before we see any changes in air quality. It can improve or worsen very quickly.”

He also said the smoky air can seem worse some seasons depending on the dryness or humidity in an area.

Corriveau said there is evidence of higher numbers of people presenting respiratory symptoms, breathing, and chronic lung disease in hospital emergency departments during forest fires, but he said it doesn’t need to get to that point.

“Staying indoors is usually a good idea, at least for first few days,” said Corriveau. “Shutting down any air conditioner or system that brings new air into the home, putting the system on re-circulate, and not adding any more smoke to the environment will help. If people smoke, it might be a good time to quit or cut back.”

People can consult a fact sheet on the NWT health and social services website on how to stay in cleaner air. He also cautions against over-exertion dehydration and says people should pay extra attention to their bodies during smoke-filled days. People with asthma, heart and lung conditions should be especially wary, but not alarmed.

“I have seen smoke a lot worse than this in some years,” said Corriveau.

At the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, spokesperson Judy McLinton said people have few options to escape this particular effect of forest fires.

“There’s not much we can do about the smoke,” she said. “There are not many places where we can send people to.”

People can consult a fact sheet on the NWT health and social services website on how to stay in cleaner air. He also cautions against over-exertion dehydration and says people should pay extra attention to their bodies during smoke-filled days. People with asthma, heart and lung conditions should be especially wary, but not alarmed.

“I have seen smoke a lot worse than this in some years,” said Corriveau.

“There’s not much we can do about the smoke,” said Judy McLinton, spokesperson with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “There are not many places where we can send people to.”

by Angele Cano