Wildfires happen every year in and around Whistler, BC, and they are a natural part of the ecosystem. But this year we’ve had an unusually hot start to the summer that has brought wildfire season rushing forward.

“Wildfires, when allowed to burn in areas where they do not impact human development, are regenerative for the forest. They revitalize the watershed, renew the soil, and reset the clock for the ecosystem” according to Dr. Timothy B. Mihuc from the University of Plattsburgh, New York.

However, if you’re not familiar with wildfires, the presence of all the smoke in the valley can be disconcerting, so we hope this post will help you understand the situation better and put any concerns at ease during your stay in Whistler.

Where are the Whistler wildfires?

At the time of writing this post (July 6th 2015) there three wildfires contributing to the dense smoke lingering in the Whistler valley:

1. Boulder Creek: approximately 60 kilometres from Whistler

2. Elaho: than 100 kilometres from Whistler

3. Old Sechelt Mine: approximately 160 kilometres from Whistler, on the Sunshine Coast

No change as of July 7th.

Whistler Wildfires 2015

What is a wildfire?

The B.C Ministry Of Forest And Range defines a wildfire as “An unplanned or unwanted natural or human-caused fire”. The Boulder Creek and Elaho fires were caused by lightening, and the Old Sechelt Mine fire is under investigation as suspected human-caused fire.

Is Whistler at risk from these wildfires?

Information from B.C Wildfire suggests that Whistler is not at risk from these wildfires, though the fires are responsible for the dense smoke that is currently lingering in the Sea-to-Sky corridor between Vancouver and Lillooet.

Where is the smoke coming from and why is it lingering?

The smoke is being funnelled through the mountain valleys from all three fires our region. The significant amount of smoke in Whistler is the result of what B.C. Air Quality calls an “airshed” or “airbasin”: areas where the movement of air pollution is hindered by natural geological features, weather and wind.

What is the Air Quality Advisory and what does it mean for me?

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* Change in Air Quality as of 8.30am July 7th, still AQHI rating of 10.
* Change to Air Quality as of 11.40am July 7th, AQHI rating back up to 11.
* Change to Air Quality as of 2.30pm July 7th, AQHI rating has tripled from this morning. Now at 35.
* Change to Air Quality as of 8pm July 7th, AQHI rating is now back down to 11.
* Change to Air Quality  as of 8pm July 8th, AQHI rating has fallen to 8 (and the bird are singing!).
* Change to Air Quality as of 3pm July 8th, AQHI rating has risen to 11. The birds are still singing, though.
* Change to Air Quality as of 5.30pm July 8th, AQHI rating has risen to 13.
* Change to Air Quality as of 5.30pm July 9th, AQHI rating has fallen to 6.
* Change to Air Quality as of 6.30am July 10th, AQHI rating has fallen to 4.
An Air Quality Advisory is issued when air quality is degraded by unwanted chemicals or other materials that are released into the air in large enough amounts to harm the health of people, plants and animals, and our environment.

If you’re unfamiliar with wildfire smoke, it can be easy to let your subconscious treat it like fog or thick clouds and continue on with any activities you may have planned, but the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia warns that wildfire smoke can “pose an under-appreciated threat to the health of the entire province“. The UBC professors go on to say “People with heart and lung diseases are most sensitive to wildfire smoke, but absolutely everyone is affected by poor air quality on smoky days”.

Those with heart and lung diseases, who are in affected areas, should ensure that they have ample rescue medication, and a plan for seeking emergency care if rescue medications are inadequate to control any exacerbations.

If you have asthma or another respiratory disease or lung disease, consult a doctor if your symptoms worsen.

Here, you can get a daily update on air quality for Whistler and other areas of the Sea to Sky Corridor: bcairquality.ca/readings

Why is wildfire smoke dangerous to our health & what are the symptoms?

The biggest health threat comes from fine the particles that are thrust up into the atmosphere as the wildfire burns, and consumes materials in its path. The microscopic particles travel with the air (this is the smoke) and, if inhaled, can effect your respiratory system.

AirNow.gov says to be aware of symptoms that the smoke may be bothering you, such as:

irritated eyes
a scratchy throat
irritated sinuses
stinging eyes
runny nose

If the above symptoms persist or become intolerable seek medical assistance and advice.

How to protect yourself from wildfire smoke

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Use common sense: If it looks smoky outside you’re going to inhale the particles in the air so it’s probably not a good time to go for a strenuous hike or bike ride.

Maybe think about taking short walks, visiting Meadow Park Recreational Centre, the Squamish Lillooet Cultural Centre, Bounce Acrobatic Academy, Village 8 Movie Theatre,  the Whistler Village Museum, or the Whistler Library.

Whistler is currently (July 6th 2015) at an AQHI rating of 10, and was previously at 11. Environment Canada recommends you “reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors, especially if you experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation.”

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Take steps to keep particle levels lower indoors: Keep your windows and doors closed (unless it’s extremely hot outside), run your air conditioner, if you have one and keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent bringing additional smoke inside. If you don’t have an air conditioner, try putting a wet/damp towel over a fan to trap the particles as they circulate. When particle levels are high, avoid activities that stirs up particles already inside your home such as vacuuming, and avoid burning candles.

Recommendations from: airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=smoke.index

If you have any more questions, the following services should be able to provide you with all the appropriate information: