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Record-breaking smoke drifts into Nelson

The Ministry of Environment is warning residents to stay inside, avoid strenuous activity outside.

Nelson residents are being encouraged to stay inside and avoid strenuous activity as a record-breaking amount of smoke drifts into the area from the Washington wildfires south of the border.

With the daily average of particulates in the air hitting 167 micrograms per cubic meter — the acceptable level is 25 — it’s becoming increasingly dangerous to breathe. The particles are approximately 2.5 microns in size, which is about a millionth of a meter, and are easily inhaled.

“The reason we’re concerned is that the size of these particulates allows them to penetrate deep into the lungs and create respiratory illness and discomfort,” air quality meteorologist Tarek Ayache of the environmental protection division of BC’s Ministry of Environment, told the Star.

And though reactions can differ from one person to the next, Ayache said everyone should avoid spending time outside and attempt to find well-ventilated rooms for refuge. Residents are already reporting headaches, fatigue and sore throats.

He noted the elderly and the young are especially vulnerable.

“Personally, I was outside in Grand Forks yesterday for about half an hour or 45 minutes. I’m a healthy individual, and I came back in with a headache. This is a real problem. Anyone can feel it.”

Ayache compared the particulate levels to that of the interior’s 2003 wildfires, and found that the current levels far exceed them.

“During the episode on Sunday we recorded a maximum level of 390, and that’s been going on since Saturday afternoon and is projected to continue until Friday.”

That’s a new record.

Precipitation is expected for Friday, at which point the smoke will hopefully disperse, but in the meantime they’re expecting a “second peak” today and Thursday.

“There’s no precipitation in sight for the next couple of days, so with these conditions we expect as long as the wildfires remain active we can expect this smoke to persist until Friday.”

Interior Health’s Karl Hardt said so far there have been three admissions to Kootenay Lake Hospital related to smoke issues, but there hasn’t been a “significant spike in overall emergency department visits”.

For daily updates and forecasts visit bcairquality.ca.