Alberta’s capital has been besieged by smoke for over 300 hours thus far this year— almost triple the former average—with no evident end in sight due to ongoing fires. The density of the smoke eased up on Monday, mitigating the Air Quality Health Index from “very high risk” to “low risk.” Yet, continuous dusty skies and accompanying health warnings seem to be impinging on the physical and mental wellness of Albertan residents.
Many citizens, as explained by Sabrina Roach, a provisional psychologist based in St. Albert, are expressing dissatisfaction as the conditions are preventing them from enjoying their desired summer activities. This ranges from those with health complications which restrict them from outdoor activities during heavy smoke to parents concerned about the well-being of their young kids. Roach suggests these wildfires could prompt an escalation of worry about environmental conditions, leading to a unique phenomenon known as “eco-anxiety.”
Edmonton, the capital, has surpassed its previous record of 229 ‘smoke hours’ from 2018. A ‘smoke hour’ is defined as visibility being reduced to 9.7 kilometers or less due to smoke. This data, collected by Environment and Climate Change Canada, is gathered around the clock, every day of the week, by human observers at designated stations.
“The average amount of smoke we experience in a summer over the last five years has risen to about 110 hours,” reported Josh Classen, CTV News Edmonton’s meteorologist. “In contrast, in the fifty years prior, the annual average was only around 17 hours. The frequency and duration of smoky conditions are undeniably on the rise.”
Several communities, such as Peace River, recorded astonishingly high smoke accumulations of 644 hours as of September 6th—a staggering increase from its previous record of 238. Grande Prairie, Cold Lake, and Calgary have all registered over 500 smoke hours this year. Even residents out at an Edmonton dog park admitted to canceling plans and opting to stay home during particularly smoky days.
Conceding the difficulty in combating smoke from ongoing wildfires, Todd Loewen, the province’s minister of forests and parks, said, “We have unfortunately experienced severe fire seasons recently, a situation mirrored across North America. Our best chance lies in preventing forest fires to start with, by ensuring we collectively maintain safety while in forested areas.”
Loewen attributed the smoke woe Alberta faced recently to fires in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. He stressed that if those fires persist, Albertans should prepare for more smoke, contingent on wind conditions.