Blog/ B.C. Wildfires Effects on Health August 17, 2018

B.C. Wildfires Effects on Health

Photo by luke flynt on Unsplash

The Situation

On Wednesday, British Columbia declared a state of emergency as firefighters have been battling over 500 wildfires – a huge increase from the 150 at this time last year. Now, officials believe the only thing that can help is rain. Extreme heat, drought, and lightening are top causes of the increase in activity, according to Lori Daniels, a forest ecology professor at the University of British Columbia.

There are over 20,000 people affected by evacuations and alerts, with over 3,000 people under evacuation orders in B.C.

Human Impact

In addition to the people ordered to leave their homes – and in most cases, not allowed to return to help pets or family members who decided to stay behind – there has been a widespread impact on air quality not only in British Columbia, but in Calgary and even as far as Winnipeg. In Alberta, the air quality index reached the worst possible rating on Thursday – a 10. Under Canada’s Air Quality Health Index rating system, a 10 calls for avoiding strenuous outdoor activities (running outdoors is certainly out of the question), and any physical exertion by children and the elderly should be avoided as well. People with asthma or heart problems are also at an increased risk.

For much of B.C., of course, there are also air quality warnings. The smoke from wildfires can be harmful in much the same way industrial emissions are, and when exposure reaches long periods of times, health risks only increase.

Breathing in wildfire smoke can cause:

  •  Sore throat
  • Eye irritation
  • Headaches
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath*
  • Dizziness*
  • Heart palpitations*

*If these symptoms occur, get to a doctor or call an emergency line. 

Protecting your health in wildfire smoke:

  • Stay indoors with clean air
  • Drink lots of water and stay hydrated
  • Avoid any physical activity outdoors
  • Use a HEPA filter in your home
  • Pay close attention to children and watch for any of the above warning signs on wildfire smoke inhalation

Children are at a very high risk of health problems from breathing in wildfire smoke. They inhale much more pollutants than adults (because they breathe more air relative to their size), and may have a harder time breathing than the average adult would in a wildfire-affected area. They are also more likely to catch colds from polluted air because their bodies and immune systems are busy fighting off pollutants from poor air quality. Preventing how much polluted air we breathe can prevent future damage to our lungs, and this is especially true for children.

What The Future Holds

Back in April, the federal government predicted another active wildfire season this year. This may likely continue to be the case in years to come. As for the current wildfires burning through B.C., they are unlikely to stop without rain in the forecast. Unfortunately, not much rain is predicted to come anytime soon. As Global B.C.’s meteorologist Kristi Gordon stated, “We do not have any rain in the forecast as far as we can see.”  There may be some rain in store this weekend, but even that may not hit enough of B.C. to have an impact.

Rain will surely come, however, and in the meantime, residents and those affected should be mindful of evacuation orders and air quality statements.

As global warming continues throughout the world, wildfires will increase in intensity and frequency. Check out our tips to help reduce climate change and protect the planet.

As always, if you or a loved one experience a severe weather disaster, please contact us anytime at 1-855-DKI-2DAY for assistance.


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