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Southern B.C. facing widespread air quality advisories due to wildfires

A helicopter carries a water bucket over a burnt out area of the Philpot Road wildfire just outside of Kelowna, B.C., on Monday, August 28, 2017.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
August 29, 2017 - 5:23 PM

KAMLOOPS, B.C. - Wildfires burning in British Columbia's Interior are resulting in poor air quality for much of the southern half of the province.

Environment Canada issued an air quality advisory for much of southern B.C., from Metro Vancouver east toward Elk Valley and as far north as Prince George.

It warns people with respiratory conditions, infants and the elderly should stay indoors in a place that's cool and ventilated.

Metro Vancouver is also warning that in addition to the smoky air caused by wildfires in the U.S., ground-level ozone is also expected to reach advisory levels for parts of the region and Fraser Valley.

Regional officials are warning people to avoid strenuous activities outside, especially in the mid-afternoon and early evening when ozone levels are at the highest.

Although the wildfire season appears to be far from over, more residents who were forced out of their homes due to a blaze east of Kelowna last week are now allowed to return.

The Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre said Tuesday an evacuation order affecting nearly 200 people has been replaced with an alert, meaning residents can go home but must still be ready to leave at a moment's notice.

The blaze that reached about 465 hectares in size forced out 1,000 people, but by Sunday about 600 were able to return.

The BC Wildfire Service said a blaze that was sparked 20 kilometres east of Kelowna on Thursday is now 20 per cent contained.

Wildlife experts are warning of the long-term consequences of the historic wildfire season that could make bears more troublesome as they fatten up before hibernation.

Wildsafe B.C. provincial co-ordinator Frank Ritcey said there is always increased conflict between bears and humans in autumn, as the bruins search for food.

He predicts this fall will be particularly challenging because huge swaths of the province have been charred by wildfires, killing the berries and grasses bears rely on.

Residents with gardens and fruit trees are advised to harvest early and often, while garbage cans should be kept secured and indoors until just before pickup.

The warning comes as BC Wildfire Service spokesman Kevin Skrepnek predicts the province's wildfire season could stretch into the fall because continued hot, dry weather is forecast over southern B.C.

He said the province has spent $404 million fighting fires that have scorched 10,600 square kilometres of timber, bush and grassland since April 1, the greatest area the province has lost to wildfires in a single season. 

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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