How bad is the air quality in Osoyoos?

The below article talks about air quality in Osoyoos, the incidents that have aggravated air pollution in the area, health, and air quality implications, along with some frequently asked questions about air quality in Osoyoos. 

How bad is the air quality in Osoyoos?

While Osoyoos has had healthy air quality levels in the past, the wildfire incidents happening in the area throughout 2021 have had devastating impacts on environmental health, especially the air quality, and citizens’ health in the area. While daily forecasts show that Osoyoos has healthy air quality levels currently, the increasing trend in the number of wildfires and the subsequent days of poor air quality has been a matter of concern amongst citizens, state, and global actors alike. 

About Osoyoos

The southernmost town in the Okanagan Calley in British Columbia, Canada, Osoyoos is home to approximately 6,737 citizens and has some of the warmest temperatures in the country. Osoyoos is derived from the Okanagan word “Sooyoos” which means the ‘narrows of the lake’. Osoyoos has the countrys’ only desert the Okanagan Desert which is being threatened due to rapid urbanization and climate change. 

Osoyoos is surrounded by the Okanagan Desert and has unique flora and fauna attributed to the area. The region is considered special and has been at the forefront of various conservation efforts by local indigenous communities and researchers, owing to the unique qualities of the land. It is considered one of the country’s most endangered habitats as only < 9% of its original size now remains (DW, 2016)

Rapid urbanization has had a severe impact on the environmental health of Osoyoos as land is being encroached on for agriculture and housing, thus threatening the very existence of those natural habitats and the native species of flora and fauna. Ecological restoration is the next ideal step in terms of saving the natural habitat, where citizens and state actors take up a participatory approach towards facilitating the recovery of the degraded and polluted ecosystem. This could mean the removal of invasive species, claiming the lands as protected areas, keeping tourists away from vulnerable sites, etc. 

Wildfires in British Columbia (BC)

In 2021, various reports have shown that wildfires throughout BC have burnt off approximately 8,700 sq. km with more than 1,600 fires. By the end of said wildfire season, there were more than 140 fires raging across BC to the point that the province has to declare a state emergency due to the wildfires (Kulkarni A., 2021). Climate researchers in the country have announced that wildfire seasons started earlier in the year due to increasing climate changes and increased drought conditions coupled with extensive heatwaves, leading to wildfires that ravaged the province. 

Below is a timeline of the wildfires in 2021, that tore apart the province and the devastating impacts it has had on the citizens and the environment:

AprilWildfire season is officially beginning and the first evacuation alert is issued on April 19 to a small community in Canford, northwest of Merritt.
June 26Instances of property damage have been recorded as a house burns down in Peachland, and researchers claim that the forecasted heatwave will break previous temperature records. 
June 28As instances of wildfires increase the province buts a ban on campfires in an effort to curb “open burning”. This decision was instigated following the suspicion that the Sparks Lake Fire, north of Kamloops, was a result of careless anthropological activities. 
June 30An emergency evacuation order is signed for Lytton as temperatures skyrocket, making Lytton the hottest place in Canada for three straight days, and a new fire rapidly approaches the village. This was the first significant evacuation order of the season. Regardless of these measures, the village was completely burnt down and took the lives of 2 residents. 
July 13The White Rock Lake, north of Kelowna starts burning as a result of lightning. 
July 20Approximately 2,900 properties were evacuated as Public Safety Minister declares a state of emergency following the wildfires. > 3,000 sq. km of land has been burnt by > 1,000 fires and records of the lands burnt broke previous records from 2003. 
August 5The White Rock Lake fire could not be contained and it breaches a highway and burns down the Monte Lake community overnight. The fire grows to a whooping 685 sq. km in size. 
August 7Vernon is given an emergency evacuation alert due to the White Rock Lake fire and thus became the single biggest community to be ever given an evacuation alert. (Kulkarni A., 2021)
August 17The White Rock Lake fire causes the evacuation of approximately 1,400 properties west to the Okanagan Lake, and 10 properties are lost to the fire on the Okanagan Indian Band Reserve (Pawson C., 2021). The Coquihalla highway reopens following a closure instigated by the merging of two wildfires.BC citizens face the third heat wave of the summer and the future remains uncertain. 
August 20Even with improved conditions due to the rains and cooler temperatures, certain parts of BC have started to dry out again causing uncertainty in the regions. The wildfires in 2021 so far have burnt over 8,580 sq. km and are the third-highest amongst the all-time records. Firefighters take a toll due to the sheer exertion involved in putting down and containing the wildfires.Approximately 75 evacuation orders have been placed for 4,951 properties, and 118 evacuation alerts that cover about 19,653 properties. (CBC, 2021)
September 3The White Rock Lake fire is contained after nearly two months and is officially classified as being “under control”. Over 75 homes were burnt and entire communities were lost to the fire. 
September 8The Tremont Creek fire, southwest of Ashcroft is classified as being “under control” is and is the last “out-of-control” fire amongst the Lytton Creek Fires.The Sparks lake fire is brought “under control” after burning off approximately 900 sq. km and is recorded as the largest fire in 2021. (Kulkarni A., 2021)
September 21The province declares the end of the emergency state, and environmental conditions have turned favorable for firefighters to put out the wildfires. It is found that 59.9% of fires during the 2021 Wildfire season were caused by lightning, and 35% were caused due to careless human activities including not properly extinguishing cigarette butts, campfires, car exhausts, etc. 565 million CAD was spent fighting wildfires in 2021 and 181 evacuation orders were issued. (Kulkarni A., 2021)

Wildfire Service in BC

The province of British Columbia has a dedicated webpage for all matters concerning wildfires, which can be used by citizens and global stakeholders alike for further information, evacuation orders and alert details, emergency information, wildfire tracking resources, current wildfire activities, etc. The site has numerous resources that are incredibly helpful and answer any question you may have about wildfires in BC and what the protocols are. 

The Information Bulletin handled by the BC Wildfire Service Media Team is a handy tool that covers all past and presents Wildfire Service information including news releases and detailed information about past fires. 

Fire Danger Ratings

The Fire Danger rating system provided by the BC Wildfire Service, is updated every day at 2 PM PST and shows the levels of danger from existing wildfires, and the possible precautionary measures that may need to be taken. The ratings are classified into 4 categories and hold different meanings:

Source: BC Wildfire Service, n.d.

LowFires would start easily and spread quickly, but will not come in contact with other larger fuel sources that may accelerate the situation.
ModerateForests fuels are drying and thus there is an enhanced risk for surface fires, limit any forest activities or proceed with extreme caution.
HighForest fuels are dry and the risk of surface fires is high. Fires can and will start easily and cannot be contained or put off causing challenges in containment efforts. Various activities are restricted including open burning, campfires, industrial activities, etc. 
ExtremeForest fuels are extremely dry, surface fire risk is extremely high. Fires will start easily and cannot be contained or put off causing challenges in containment efforts.  Various activities are restricted including open burning, campfires, industrial activities, etc. along with general forest entry or activities. 

Wildfire Smoke, Air Quality, and Health Implications

Smoke from wildfires has been an increasing recurring hazard to air quality levels and has thus contributed to several months of unhealthy air quality levels in BC. The threat of wildfire smoke and its implications on physical health has been exaggerated due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Smoke is an additional risk for people with COVID-19 and other vulnerable populations such as previously diagnosed chronically ill patients, kids, individuals with respiratory issues, etc. that worsens symptoms. COVID-19 in combination with environmental hazards around the area gives the city and its citizens even more reason to be prepared within mitigation strategies to protect themselves from poor air quality and raging wildfires.  

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Does Osoyoos have poor air quality?

What are the records for most land burnt due to wildfires in Canada?

The top 3 records for the most lands burnt during wildfires are the following:

  • 2018 – approximately 13, 550 sq. km
  • 2017 – approximately 12,160 sq. km
  • 2021 – approximately 8,700 sq. km

Which cities in Canada have the poorest air quality?

According to IQAir on December 02, 2021, the cities with the poorest air quality is as follows: 

#CityUS AQI
1Dawson City, Yukon74
2Golden, British Columbia74
3Terrebonne, Quebec73
4Elk Falls Dogwood, British Columbia71
5Kingston, Ontario66
6Whitehorse, Yukon66
7Otterburn Park, Quebec62
8Whitecourt, Alberta61
9Fredericton, New Brunswick57
10Gatineau, Quebec57

Where can I check daily air quality forecasts for Osoyoos, British Columbia?

BreezoMeter provides an air quality map that allows you to check the air quality forecasts as well as allergen forecasts every day for any city of your choosing. The above link will take you to the air quality in Osoyoos at the present moment, and you can search any other city or country of your choice to check the forecasts, as Breezometer provides its services for > 93 countries. 

For quick and easier access, BreezoMeter also provides a mobile app that is easy and convenient to use. It will show you the hourly air quality standards, as well as show the measures you may need to take to protect yourself in case of poor air quality. It is a handy app to have on your mobile device as it would help reduce the chronic impacts of long-term exposure to poor air quality. 

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

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References 

BC Wildfire Service. (n.d.). Fire Danger. Viewed on 12-02-2021. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/wildfire-status/wildfire-situation/fire-danger 

BC Wildfire Service. (n.d.). 2021 Wildfire Season Summary. Viewed on 12-02-2021. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/wildfire-status/about-bcws/wildfire-history/wildfire-season-summary 

CBC News. (2021, August 20). What you need to know about B.C. wildfires for Aug. 20. Viewed on 12-02-2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/wyntk-bc-wildfires-aug-20-1.6147114 

DW. (2016). Saving Canada’s only desert. Viewed on 12-02-2021. https://www.dw.com/en/saving-canadas-only-desert/a-19470246 

IQAir. (2021, December 02). Air Quality in Osoyoos. Viewed on 12-02-2021. https://www.iqair.com/canada/british-columbia/osoyoos 

Kulkarni A. (2021, October 04). A look back at the 2021 B.C. wildfire season. CBC News. Viewed on 12-03-2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bc-wildfires-2021-timeline-1.6197751 

Pawson C. (2021, August 17). Dozens of Okanagan residents cope with the news their homes have been lost to wildfire. CBC News. Viewed on 12-02-2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/dozens-of-okanagan-residents-cope-with-the-news-their-homes-have-been-lost-to-wildfire-1.6144478  

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