The sudden onset of heavy smoke across Metro Vancouver over the weekend is expected to worsen on Monday as winds from the south bring particulate-laden air from U.S. fires and as nearby wildfires grow.
After a summer of smoke-free skies, Metro Vancouver’s air turned grey starting Friday night, according to Metro Vancouver air quality planner Geoff Doerksen.
“We had been dealing with a complex of fires burning southeast of Chilliwack and Hope for a week, creating bad air around Cultus Lake,” Doerksen said, referring to air that has high concentrations of particulate that can enter the bloodstream through the lungs. The haziness in the air is due to this particulate.
However, on Friday night the winds shifted to westerly, dragging the bad air from those large fires steadily toward Metro Vancouver. These winds also fuelled and spread those fires — the Flood Falls Trail and Heather Lake blazes remain out of control and are spreading.
Making matters worse, early on Saturday morning Vancouver firefighters were called to a blaze at a wood recycling facility on the Fraser River at the bottom of Ontario Street.
And the impact of that blaze deepened when a temperature inversion appeared in Vancouver, in which cold air was closer to the ground and warm air higher, trapping the smoke from fire within.
“You could see the smoke travelling along the Fraser River from Coquitlam to Vancouver,” said Doerksen, adding that there was a weaker inversion still in place on Sunday. Also on Sunday a fresh wildfire erupted near Stave Lake in Mission.
Doerksen said that North Vancouver was particularly hard bit by the smoky skies, but it was being felt across the most heavily populated area of B.C. — and was as bad as the haze that appeared earlier in the summers of 2017 and 2018 due to raging wildfires. Although in those cases, the smoke was more widespread across the province.
On Sunday afternoon, Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Acting Assistant Chief Al Gregory said the woodlot fire was under control but still smouldering, with excavators pulling away piles of wood waste so that hoses could be directed on the embers below. The fire began along a conveyor belt, which then spread into piles of wood waste.
“It’s not optimal firefighting conditions with already smoky skies,” said Gregory, adding that it would take time to fully extinguish the blaze.
Global air quality index IQAir rated Vancouver as having the worst air of any city in the world on Sunday, based on particulate on the skies. Second was Dubai, followed by Chengdu in China and Dhaka in Bangladesh.
According to Environment Canada, on Monday winds from the south are expected to bring more smoke to Metro Vancouver from fires burning in Washington and Oregon.
“We expect the smoke to stick around,” Doerksen said, with conditions improving for Metro Vancouver when the winds switch from a more southerly direction to easterly.
According to the latest statement from the B.C. Ministry of Forests, the Flood Falls Trail fire southwest of Hope and visible from Highway One had grown to 271 hectares and was out of control.
The Fraser Valley Regional District and the District of Hope have issued subsequent evacuation alerts as hot, dry conditions and gusty winds fuel the fire.
The Heather Lake fire in Manning Park east of Hope is also out of control and has grown to 8,663 hectares. This fire is in B.C. and Washington.
“Today and tomorrow, additional smoke is expected to arrive from the south (the U.S.), further degrading air quality,” Environment Canada warned on Sunday.
The bad air led to the cancellation of horse races on Sunday at Hastings Park and some soccer matches being put on by the Whitecaps academy were cancelled.
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