Fighting to breathe in the face of Canada’s wildfire emergency

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By Mika McKinnon

t’s stiflingly hot and I’m trapped inside a dome of smoke. I know I’m in a river valley nestled within mountain ranges, but the visibility is cut so low that I can’t see any of the dramatic peaks that dominate landscapes across British Columbia. It’s the worst documented wildfire season since 1958, and smoke is an omnipresent and unwelcome companion.

“We have a very significant fire season unfolding,” says Daniel Perrakis, a fire research scientist at the Canadian Forest Service. It’s the largest area burned since the advent of modern fire-suppression and fire-management techniques, he says. Over 591,000 hectares have burned so far.

I’ve left my coastal home in Vancouver and traveled inland to support evacuations, joining the swarms of volunteers being deployed to help.

Shifting winds and an atmospheric wall of high pressure have funneled smoke into the city of Kamloops, filling the air with an unprecedented 684.5 micrograms of fine material per cubic metre. That’s nearly 70 times more than the World Health Organization’s guidelines for safe exposure limits.

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