DAWSON CREEK -- Environment Canada has issued a Special Air Quality Statement for the BC Peace Region and Fort Nelson and says parts of the region are likely to be impacted by wildfire smoke over the next 24-48 hours.

Wildfire smoke can be harmful to everyone’s health even at low concentrations. Residents are being urged to take actions to protect their health and reduce exposure to smoke.

People with lung disease (such as asthma) or heart disease, older adults, children, pregnant people, and people who work outdoors are at higher risk of experiencing health effects caused by wildfire smoke. Be sure to check on people in your care and those around you who may be more susceptible to smoke

The B.C. Wildfire Service says the West Kiskatinaw River Wildfire discovered Tuesday south of Dawson Creek now covers 96 square kilometres near Tumbler Ridge, forcing the Peace River Regional District to expand an evacuation order late Wednesday.

No showers are due in parts of parched northeastern B.C. until at least next week and the forecast shows temperatures should remain well above average through the weekend, meaning no respite from smoky conditions or aid for crews battling several large wildfires.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters on Wednesday morning that he was feeling the impacts of the smoky air and encouraged people, especially those with pre-existing respiratory conditions, to wear an N95 mask.

“So, for all of these people, including others that may want to protect themselves against the bad consequences of bad quality air, wearing an N95 mask is the recommended procedure by health authorities," Duclos said on Wednesday.

He noted while wearing a mask is a personal choice, he still  recommends that Canadians were one if they're outdoors, as the air quality is among the worst in the world.

“But we also know that these consequences will be worse, as the extent of the bad air quality continues. We are told by firefighters and other health officials that, unfortunately, the situation will continue for a few more days.”


As of Wednesday evening, several cities across the country are reporting a moderate to high-risk on the Air Quality Index.

What's especially harmful about the current air quality in most regions are the extremely small particles—called fine particulates—that can travel into the lungs when we breathe, explains Joe Fida, CIO of Canadian air purifier company Blade Air.

"It is generally not healthy because it can cause inflammation, swelling—there's a lot of very adverse effects from it and the other problem is that they stay airborne for a very long time," said Fida.

Fida explains these fine particulates, known as PM 2.5, are 2.5 microns in diameter, however, smaller particles can travel further distances and contaminate the air.

"Of course (larger) particulates still travel about 30 to 100 kilometres from the fire but when you look at the fine particulates, they can travel for thousands of kilometres—minutes to hours of airborne travel. But then when you talk about ultra fine particulates, that's several days or weeks they can be airborne and travel; this is what's causing a lot of the pollution downwind of where the fires are occuring."

Dr. Shawn Aaron said, fine particulates that are swirling in the air in high concentrations can enter into a person's lungs and travel into their bloodstream causing the body to react in an inflammatory way.


Everyone can be made vulnerable to the effects of inhaling wood smoke, says Aaron. Instant symptoms of smoke inhalation can include stinging, watery eyes, and excess mucus production in the throat and nose.

For those who breathe in wood smoke for longer periods of time or have a pre-existing respiratory condition like asthma, Dr. Aaron said the body's airway tubes that bring air into the lungs can become swollen and tight, causing issues like coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath.


By using a face mask when outdoors, specifically an N95 mask, Canadians can reduce their risk of respiratory harms, said Aaron.

N95 masks are used to protect against 95 per cent of particulates which is why they're the recommended face mask, he said, however cloth or paper face masks can provide some mild protection against wildfire smoke.

"You're going to be exposing yourself to a lot fewer of these microscopic dust particles if you're wearing an N95 and that'll be a lot better than if you're wearing your cloth mask or paper mask," Aaron said.

Despite this, he recommends everyone stay indoors and avoid going outside if they can. Aaron says since N95 face masks can protect from fine particulates, they may not be able to fully protect people from volatile gasses being produced by the fires that continuously pollute the air.

For those remaining indoors with the windows and doors shut, additional air filtration can also ensure the indoor air quality remains clean, Fida recommends.

"Even after the pandemic we've seen many countless air threats already in just a few years. Every time you turn around, there's something else threatening our air quality," Fida said.

Having an installed air filtration system like a furnace can be especially useful during high-risk air quality warnings; however portable air purifiers can also be a more affordable option to keep the air in the home purified.  

The BC Wildfire Service is reporting five new fires in the last 24 hours, while 29 of the 81 active wildfires were still ranked as out of control.


With files from Melissa Lopez-Martinez CTV.ca and The Canadian Press.