Metro Vancouver braces for potentially severe 2019 wildfire smoke season

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      Remember last summer when the air was really bad because of wildfires?

      It could happen again, or worse.

      Metro Vancouver is preparing for another wildfire season in what a staff report says is “in anticipation there may be significant wildfire smoke impacts occurring again”.

      The report was prepared Francis Ries and Ken Reid, senior project engineer and superintendent of environmental sampling and monitoring, respectively, with the regional government’s planning and environmental department.

      According to Ries and Reid, the impact of wildfire smoke on the region has “grown significantly” since 2015.

      In 2015, eight air quality advisories occurred because of smoke from large fires north of Pemberto, the two recalled.

      There were no air quality advisories in 2016, but 2017 had 19 advisories because of wildfires in the B.C. Interior, and the U.S. West Coast.

      Last year was the worst so far.

      According to Ries and Reid, wildfires in the B.C. Interior, the western U.S., Siberia, Alaska, Vancouver Island, and the Fraser Valley, “all contributed to an unprecedented 22 air quality advisory days”.

      “The 14-day advisory in place from August 13-27 is the longest continuous advisory period in the history of Metro Vancouver’s air quality advisory program,” the two wrote.

      Metro Vancouver has 31 air quality monitoring stations from Horseshoe Bay to Hope.

      Data collected by these stations form the basis for the district’s air quality advisories.

      Ries and Reid noted that the “summers of 2015, 2017 and 2018 have demonstrated that Metro Vancouver’s air quality programs need to adapt in response to impacts from wildfires outside the region, especially if the changing climate increases the frequency, duration and severity of wildfires in the future”.

      They wrote that a “warming climate is likely to increase frequency and duration of wildfires and associated smoke impacts”.

      Residents in the region may expect more pro-active action by Metro Vancouver.

      “To make the most effective use of media exposure, staff are seeking to optimize the use of early outreach and messaging before air quality degrades to levels that warrant an advisory being issued…,” Ries and Reid wrote.

      The staff report is in the agenda Friday (April 12) of Metro Vancouver’s climate action committee. 

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