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Calgary sky filled with smoke; health, fire officials urge caution

Many Calgary residents woke up Tuesday to a dark sky, even after sunrise, and the choking smell of smoke, as the devastating effect of wildfires elsewhere in the province has blown south.

Some experts urged caution for areas affected by an Air Quality Health Index of 10+, the highest possible rating.

The Calgary Fire Department issued a fire advisory to discourage residents from igniting any fires, open flames or burns that would increase the smoke already in the air.

"Our current conditions are moderate but with increased smoke, visibility is reduced. Our fire crews are already busy, so we want to be cognizant of that," said Glenn Baxter, fire marshal.

The Calgary Board of Education cancelled strenuous activities and sports but many decisions were up to individual schools and administrators.

The Calgary Catholic School Division also limited outdoor time, recesses and field trips in some cases.


Alberta Health Services says anyone with pre-existing health conditions like asthma, heart disease or pregnancy is urged to limit their time outdoors.

"On the whole, we anticipate most of these symptoms to be mild. Irritations like eyes, sore throat, some congestion, mild coughing. But we do want folks to monitor (and) if these symptoms are getting worse, or (they) have underlying medical conditions, to talk to their primary health-care physician," said Dr. Franco Rizzuti, medical officer of health for the Calgary Zone.

As for wearing masks outside as an added layer of protection, Rizutti is not recommending them.

"Most masks that you can buy at stores, including medical-grade masks, do not protect you from the fine particulates in wildfire smoke. The harmful particles are so small that they can go around or through the mask. An N95/N94 or P100 mask, properly worn with a tight seal, offers some protection," Rizutti said.

"However, the best thing Calgarians can do is to stay inside with the windows and doors closed instead of relying on a mask to protect you from smoke."


The smoke and poor air quality didn't keep Cheryl Flieger from enjoying one of her favourite things to do.

"Any day is a good day on the golf course, smoke or not."

Flieger said it was difficult to see the golf ball for long drive shots, and uncomfortable to breathe in the smoke.

"I would consider that I have good lungs, and it's even hard for myself to breathe in and breath out."


Climate experts say the wind has blown wildfire smoke down south.

"A change from more southerly winds to now northerly winds and coming right from the north to the south, carrying all that smoke with it," said David Phillips, senior climatologist for Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Phillips adds that wildfires sparking in May are not uncommon, noting the Slave Lake fires of 2011 or the Fort McMurray wildfire of 2016.

However, he says smoky days like Calgary experienced on Tuesday are uncommon to see in May.

"It's a bit ominous. This rip-roaring of a May. What does that foretell for July and August?"