Vancouver braces for heat wave, poor air quality from wildfire smoke

By The Canadian Press
August 2, 2017 - 6:18am

VANCOUVER — Southern British Columbia is bracing for a troubling combination of a heat wave and poor air quality from wildfire smoke, prompting officials to take a number of extraordinary measures to keep residents safe.

The city of Vancouver is opening cooling centres, installing misting stations in public parks and adding temporary water fountains. It is also providing water and sunscreen to homeless people and increasing staff to monitor those sleeping outside.

“We’re concerned,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson on Tuesday.

“Everyone is at risk in the city with heat stroke and exhaustion being realities when we have this combination of impacts, so we’re ramping up efforts to make sure the city has supports in place.”

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement about the hot weather for Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Howe Sound, Whistler, the Sunshine Coast, Southern Gulf Islands and east and south Vancouver Island.

A massive ridge of high pressure over the area is expected to push temperatures in many communities into the mid- to high 30s.

Air-quality advisories cover much of southern B.C., and were issued for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley starting Tuesday, as smoke from wildfires in the Interior drifts into the region, bringing high concentrations of fine particulate matter that are expected to last for several days.

Dr. Reka Gustafson, medical health officer at Vancouver Coastal Health, urged young children, pregnant women, seniors and people with chronic health problems to be especially cautious.

“The poor air quality affects anyone with cardiac conditions, respiratory conditions and diabetes,” she added. “You should really not have physical exertion.”

Residents are being urged to use air-conditioned lobbies or common areas in their buildings or take advantage of air-conditioned rooms in community centres. Homeless people have been offered the use of showers at two public parks.

The region’s pet population is also at risk and the SPCA issued a reminder on Tuesday to the public not to leave animals in hot cars.

A Port Coquitlam veterinary hospital issued a warning of its own when it posted a photo of the body of a dog, covered in a blanket, that died after being left in a hot car on Friday.

“We are heartbroken. Such a preventable disaster,” reads the post from Shaughnessy Veterinary Hospital. “Family is distraught. Please please stop doing this people!!”

A follow-up post from the veterinary hospital said the owners of the dog are not “bad pet people” and the photo was published as a reminder that the tragedy can happen to anyone.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, veterinarian and hospital owner Dr. Leah Montgomery said she was no longer speaking to the media about the post. She would not provide a reason.

The SPCA encouraged people to leave their pets at home when they are going out in the car.

“People don’t realize just how quickly their cars can become death traps for their pets — it can take as little as 10 minutes for the vehicle to reach temperatures where the animal can suffer irreparable brain damage or death,” said community relations manager Lorie Chortyk in a statement.

The society is urging anyone who sees a dog in distress in a parked vehicle to note the licence plate and vehicle information and ask managers of nearby businesses to page the owner. If no owner is found or the animal is suffering symptoms of heatstroke, call the SPCA.

The heat also doesn’t bode well for the province’s wildfire situation, with danger ratings to remain high to extreme across much of southern B.C.

“The ongoing dry weather poses a continued fire risk as land becomes more parched,” said Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services Chief Darrell Reid. “For this reason, the ban on open fires including campfires remains in place and will remain so until further notice.”

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

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