Much of central and southern Alberta, including Lethbridge, Calgary, and Red Deer and Edmonton, was put under a special weather statement Monday because of drifting forest fire smoke from Washington State.

Alberta Health Services issued an air quality advisory for the Calgary Zone, which will stay in effect until further notice. The air quality statement for the City of Edmonton had ended as of 3:10 p.m.

The Environment Canada warning said the wildfire smoke from the Pacific northwest was expected to move into Alberta early Monday morning. Smoke advisories were issued over the weekend in B.C.

The smoke is expected to mix down to the surface in Alberta later in the morning or early afternoon. The federal weather agency said it was uncertain as to how concentrated the smoke will be, but indicated there could be significant reductions in visibility and air quality.

The Government of Alberta’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), which uses a scale of one to 10 to indicate the risk, predicts Calgary and Red Deer to reach a nine and eight, respectively, by Monday night.

On the AQHI, four to six is considered a moderate risk, seven to 10 is high risk, and over 10 is very high. Northern wildfires back in July pushed the air quality health index to a 11 in some parts of Alberta.

The very young, very old and those with pre-existing health conditions are most affected by the poor air quality. However even healthy individuals may experience temporary irritation of the eyes and throat, and possibly shortness of breath, when the air quality is poor enough.

During times of poor air quality, the province suggests people reduce or reschedule strenuous outdoor activities, and asks residents not to use backyard fire pits or fire boxes in parks.

To reduce exposure to the current poor air conditions, AHS suggests the following:

  • Reduce presence of smoke in indoor environments:
    • Close and lock all outside windows and doors, including attached garage doors.
    • Turn down furnace thermostats and furnace fans to the minimum setting. Do not attempt to extinguish pilot light.
    • If you have an air-conditioner, keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside.
    • Avoid running fans, such as “whole-house fans” or “fresh air ventilation systems” that bring more smoky outdoor air inside.
    • Switch all floor registers to closed position.
    • Close fire place dampers on wood burning fireplaces.
    • Do not use wood burning fireplace, wood stoves or other smoke-producing appliances or features, including candles.
  • If you must drive to another location, keep windows and vents closed. Run car fans on re-circulate mode to avoid drawing in outdoor air.
  • Reduce levels of physical activity, as necessary, to decrease the inhalation of airborne pollutants.
  • Do not smoke tobacco – smoking puts added stress on your lungs and those around you.

For more information on the current air quality health risks, visit the Government of Alberta’s website. Anyone with symptoms can also call Health Link at 811 to speak to a registered nurse.

The Washington wildfire is burning about four and a half kilometres south of the Canada-U.S. border, near Grand Forks and Christina Lake in southern B.C.