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How air quality affects wildfire evacuees returning home

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August 13, 2017 - 8:30 AM

VICTORIA - A result of the wildfires in British Columbia is tens of thousands of people have become evacuees.

People are starting to be able to return home as evacuation orders are lifted, however, many may be wondering if it is safe to do so. According to a release from the Ministry of Health today, Aug. 11, air quality from smoke is one of the main concerns facing evacuees.

Consider the following if you are planning to return home:

  • Many communities across B.C. have had to live with wildfire smoke.The release says "In many cases, air quality conditions in communities where people have been evacuated due to fire risk are worse than in home communities."
  • To have a sense of how conditions compare where you are, visit the air quality health index website.
  • Additionally, when large groups of people are housed together, such as evacuation centres, there are public health concerns. In some cases, says the release, gastrointestinal illness that spread at evacuation centres.

Smoke concentrations vary, for example, the depend on wind patterns. As a result, smoke from a wildfire may not be directly correlated with proximity to a fire. Smoke is actually worse in other areas of the province. The release states that evacuation alerts or orders are based on the fire risk alone - not smoke conditions.

As the season progresses and hot and dry conditions continue, experts are predicting that there will continue to be more communities evacuated because of fires. That means that resources and available lodging for evacuees will likely continue to be stretched.

Because new evacuees will need the resources, public health officials are recommending that evacuees, who are now able to return home as a result of orders being lifted, return home.

If you are at increased risk of health concerns as a result of smoke - no matter where you are in the province:

  • Have rescue medication on hand at all times and a plan to follow if your rescue medication cannot bring your condition under control.
  • Look for indoor environments that might be less smoky, such as shopping malls, community centres and libraries. Consider creating an area in your home that is designated as having clean air. You can do this by ensuring that doors and windows stay closed, and adding a HEPA air filter.
  • Avoid physical exertion because the amount of smoke you breathe increases as your breathing rate increases.
  • Keep hydrated as it helps your body deal with inflammation.

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