Wildfires are a natural phenomenon that occurs every year in different parts of the world. They can have devastating impacts on the environment, wildlife, and human health. In this blog post, we will focus on the wildfires that are currently raging in Canada, especially in the eastern province of Nova Scotia. which is experiencing its worst-ever wildfire season.
What causes wildfires?
Wildfires can be ignited by natural causes, such as lightning strikes, or by human activities, such as campfires, cigarettes, or arson. Once started, wildfires can spread quickly and unpredictably, depending on the weather conditions, the type and amount of fuel available, and the terrain.
Where are the wildfires in Canada?
Canada is experiencing one of the worst starts to its wildfire season ever recorded. More than 6.7 million acres in the country have already burned in 2023. Most of the fires are concentrated in the provinces of Quebec and Nova Scotia, where dry and windy conditions have created favorable conditions for fire growth.
In Quebec, around 14,000 people were forced to evacuate, and more than 150 fires are still ablaze in the province. The largest fire, known as the Lac-St-Jean fire, has burned more than 2.5 million acres and is only 20% contained.
In Nova Scotia, officials said Sunday that one wildfire had been contained but a second, covering nearly 100 square miles, was still burning out of control. The fire, which started near Barrington Lake on May 29, has destroyed dozens of homes and cottages and threatened several communities. The federal government has deployed more than 300 military personnel and aircraft to assist the local firefighters.
How are the wildfires affecting the air quality?
Smoke from wildfires can travel long distances and affect the air quality in regions far from the fire source. Smoke contains a mixture of gases and fine particles that can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. Exposure to smoke can worsen respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and increase the risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and strokes.
Smoke from the Canadian wildfires has been drifting over the northeastern United States and settling across the Midwest. Air quality advisories are in effect Monday in southeastern Minnesota and parts of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, as well as in more than 60 counties in Wisconsin. Hazy skies have blanketed a wide swath of the country from the Ohio Valley to as far south as the Carolinas. Alerts warning of elevated concentrations of air pollution were issued across the regions particularly for “sensitive groups” that include children, older adults, and people with asthma and other pre-existing respiratory conditions.
How can you protect yourself from wildfire smoke?
The best way to protect yourself from wildfire smoke is to avoid exposure as much as possible. Here are some tips to reduce your exposure:
- Check the air quality index (AQI) in your area regularly. You can use online tools such as AirNow.gov or PurpleAir.com to monitor the AQI near you.
- Stay indoors when the AQI is unhealthy or higher. Keep windows and doors closed and use an air conditioner or a fan with a filter if possible. Avoid using wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, candles, or gas stoves that can add more pollutants to the indoor air.
- Wear a well-fitted N95 or KN95 mask when you go outside. These masks can filter out most of the fine particles in smoke. However, they do not protect against gases or vapors. Make sure you wear your mask correctly and replace it when it gets dirty or damaged.
- Limit your physical activity when the air quality is poor. Exercise increases your breathing rate and makes you inhale more smoke particles. If you have to exercise outdoors, do it early in the morning or late in the evening when the air quality is usually better.
- Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. Water helps flush out toxins from your body and keeps your mucous membranes moist.
- Seek medical attention if you experience symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest pain, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing. These could be signs of a serious respiratory problem that requires immediate treatment.
How can you help prevent wildfires?
Wildfires are often caused by human activities that can be prevented with some simple precautions. Here are some ways you can help prevent wildfires:
- Follow local fire restrictions and regulations. Do not start a fire when there is a fire ban or a high fire danger warning in your area.
- Be careful with any source of ignition. Do not toss cigarette butts, matches, or fireworks on the ground. Make sure you extinguish them completely and dispose of them properly.
- Use fire pits, campfires, and barbecues safely. Keep them away from flammable materials such as dry grass, leaves, or branches. Never leave them unattended and make sure you put them out completely before you leave.
- Report any suspicious or illegal fire activity to the authorities. If you see someone starting a fire or setting off fireworks in a prohibited area, call 911 or your local fire department.
Wildfires are a serious threat to the environment, wildlife, and human health. They can cause widespread damage and disruption to communities and ecosystems. By staying informed, prepared, and responsible, we can reduce the risk of wildfires and protect ourselves and others from their harmful effects.