WATCH: These fires burning across B.C. are creating some of the worst air quality health risks seen in recent memory. As Dean Stoltz reports, people with certain health problems are encouraged to seek air-conditioned relief and avoid physical exertion.
Nanaimo’s old quarter is more like a ghost town today. Mafeo Sutton Park’s playground sits empty as people stay indoors to avoid the smoky air.
A thick layer of smoke is blanketing B.C. with nearly 600 wildfires burning, and the health risk is at a “very high” level for Nanaimo and Parksville.
The B.C. government’s air quality index is reading 10+ for Nanaimo/Parksville, the highest reading available.
And most of the people outside today say they noticed the poor air quality.
“It’s like a grittiness and heaviness in my chest, and my eyes have been watering, sneezing,” said one resident.
Air quality is poor across the island but the air quality health risk is rated at very high today in Victoria, Saanich, Duncan and Nanaimo. It’s rated as high in the Comox Valley.
“So the scale only goes to 10 or 10+, right now when I looked at it it was at 125 here in Nanaimo. Typically we’re running 4 to 6 and the BC air-quality objective is 25 so that gives you a sense of how much above, and were in some of the better air available in the province at the moment,” said Island Health’s Dr. Paul Hasselback.
The poor air quality also affects visibility. Mountains usually discernible disappeared, and the poor visibility also grounded see planes in Nanaimo today. But for most people it can affect their health.
“First and foremost asthma attacks, worsening for those people who have the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, it also affects those with underlying cardiac conditions, sometimes other conditions as well even some people with arthritis will complain their symptoms worsen with poor air quality days,” said Hasselback.
For others, it can just be an inconvenience that scratchy throat and itchy eyes.
“I was out all day yesterday at a company picnic so I was coughing a lot and my eyes were watering,” said a Nanaimo resident.
WATCH: Smoke blankets Zeballos Monday morning. A 90-hectare wildfire burns on a mountainside above the village. An evacuation order has been given to six Zeballos properties.
Health officials say people with heart or breathing problems are at greater risk and are being advised to avoid strenuous activity outdoors.
That also applies to children and the elderly, while the general population is told to “reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors, especially if you experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation.”
The health risk has gone from moderate to a high-risk reading of eight in the Comox Valley and seven in Duncan, also under the high-risk category.
The forecast is for conditions to reach a high-risk reading of eight around Greater Victoria.
In fact, the World Air Quality Index shows B.C. has some of the worst air quality readings in the world, with Castlegar, the Okanagan, Whistler, Squamish and parts of Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley among other areas dealing with thick smoke.
Two triathlons in the Okanagan were cancelled Sunday as a precaution for racers because of smoke and particulates in the air.
The conditions are expected to improve gradually over the next few days.