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Canadian family warns of the dangers of wildfire smoke after losing son


The family of a nine-year-old boy who died last summer is urging Canadians to be more mindful of the harmful effects of wildfire smoke. 

Carter Vigh died of asthma exacerbated by the smoke in July 2023 in 100 Mile House, B.C.

His mom Amber says the family was aware that poor air quality was dangerous, but, like most people, didn’t understand just how bad it could be. 

"People have to pay attention," Amber told CTV News. "They need to know that when there’s an air quality alert that comes out, you need to be cautious."

"By just going into your house and closing your windows and doors, you’re not necessarily keeping yourself completely safe, because that air is still coming in."

Carter, who dealt with asthma his entire life, began coughing on a summer day last year after inhaling the pollutants from wildfire smoke. 

"People don’t realize," Amber said. "They think the flames are the only danger in a fire, and if the flames aren’t on your doorstep, you’re OK."

Amber and her husband have since launched Carter's Project, a partnership between the family and the B.C. Lung Foundation. 

Their goal is to hand out air quality monitors and encourage Canadians to invest in air purifiers for their home. 

They’ve already raised thousands of dollars for the cause, passed out more than 100 purifiers in their community and lobbied their provincial representative to introduce a private member's bill — called Carter's Law — in the B.C. legislature.

The bill aims to better air quality management and protect vulnerable people during wildfire seasons.

"The main reason we’ve pushed this so much is so no other family has to go through what we’ve gone through," Vigh said.

Carter Vigh died of asthma exacerbated by the smoke in July 2023 in 100 Mile House, B.C.

Smoke incoming

Wildfire season this year, while so far not as bad as 2023’s record-breaker, is projected to be especially rough. 

Poor air quality is on the docket, according to experts, and historical data suggests that it will likely be the case for the foreseeable future. 

Environment and Climate Change Canada data shows since 2014, the annual average of smoky hours from May to September has been about 192. 

That’s monumental stacked up against the same period from 1981 to 2000 — which, on average, saw just 12 hours of smoke per year. 

That’s led to a rise in cardiac and respiratory hospital admissions, as well as lung and brain cancer reporting. 

Seniors, those who are pregnant, smokers, infants, children, outdoor workers and those with pre-existing or chronic health conditions are most at risk when the air quality drops.

Milder symptoms can include eye, nose and throat irritation, as well as more worrying symptoms like chest pain or severe coughs. 

Experts advise Canadians stay inside during the smokiest days, and consider turning on their furnace fan — even those who don't have air conditioning — to filter some of the smoke out. 

- With files from Canadian Press Top Stories

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