My evening walk near the top of Rifle Range Road in Salmon Arm offers a breathtaking view of Shuswap Lake, as well as a grey layer of smoke hanging about its periphery.
No, it’s not “wildfire season” – not yet – though there have been a couple of concerning blazes in the region already.
Some of the smoke I’m seeing I’m guessing is from people keeping their homes warm. However, the more obvious, large plumes popping up in the Shuswap as of late would be the result of outdoor burn piles.
I’ve heard a number of concerns regarding these legal, permitted burns, especially over the past couple of years, after we’ve come out of a terrible wildfire season and the air has finally cleared.
Our sister paper, the Vernon Morning Star, has put together an informative series on how extended exposure to smoke from wildfires impacts human health (The Smokanagan, parts 1 and 2).
“Smoke is much more dangerous than dust, no question,” says Thompson Rivers University professor Michael Mehta, who has been studying the physical effects and health risks of air pollution for more than a decade.
The problem with smoke, he says, is the small size of the particulate which, after being inhaled, can move through the blood stream and into organs and tissues.
University of Alberta professor Mike Flannigan recently made headlines when he equated inhaling that wildfire particulate – which can include mercury, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane – to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.
While the volume of smoke produced from local burn piles isn’t comparable to what we saw last summer, including that unforgettable yellow/brown day in August, it’s still notable – on some days more than others.
In addition to risks associated with extended smoke exposure, there are the fires themselves. On April 2, Shuswap firefighters responded to a brush fire that resulted from a burn pile getting out of control. Noting how dry the season has been, the fire chief suggested that instead of burning, some wood waste could be taken to a Columbia Shuswap Regional District landfill – where yard waste is accepted free year-round.
Perhaps it’s time to move beyond the whole historical practice setting precedent thing, and pursue solutions that would allow us all to breathe easier.