Smoke

The skies over the Okanagan had an orange cast this week as the Valley was blanketed by smoke from Washington State.

A bitter taste of America will be in the Okanagan this week.

Smoke from wildfires burning across several U.S. states billowed into the Valley early Tuesday and the outlook is for several days of orange-and-grey skies.

“I think this smoke will be around for most of the work week, at least, unfortunately,” Environment Canada meteorologist Doug Lundquist said.

“It’s the worst air quality we’ve had in the B.C. Southern Interior this year,” he said. “It probably won’t improve until we get a bit of a cold front from the north, and right now we don’t see anything like that for at least a few days.”

After weeks of almost pristine air this summer, the air quality index in Kelowna plummeted between 9 and 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The measurement of PM 2.5, a fine particulate that can be hazardous to health, rose from 1.3 to 27.5. An air quality advisory was issued by Environment Canada when the measurement went higher than 25.

Good quality is air is said to have a PM 2.5 reading of 8.

The smoke is coming from several large fires burning across Washington, Idaho, and Oregon, Lundquist said. “There’s hundreds of fires burning across those states,” he said.

Another way to measure air quality is the scale of 1-10+ used by health authorities. At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the reading in both Penticton and Kelowna was 4, said to represent ‘moderate risk’ to health.

On a U.S. scale used to measure air quality, Kelowna’s reading at 11 a.m. was 70, which also represents a ‘moderate’ risk to health.

On that scale, the worst-ever air quality in Kelowna occurred on Aug. 19, 2018, when the reading was 473. Anything over 300 is considered ‘hazardous’ to health.

People most at risk during times of heavy smoke are those with underlying medical conditions such as asthma, COPD, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as infants and the elderly.