Smoky skies over Cowichan Wednesday night had many calling local authorities convinced a fire must be nearby. There wasn’t. Smoke from the Lizard Lake fire was being pushed over from the west and settling, uncomfortably, into the valley.
The Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with Island Health issued a Smoky Skies Advisory Thursday morning for the Lake Cowichan, Duncan, Crofton, Cobble Hill, Shawnigan Lake and Mill Bay areas, which seem most impacted by the smoke.
A smoke advisory doesn’t necessarily mean poor air quality, though, this time it seems to. The Air Quality Health Index for Duncan was at a six as of 8 a.m. Thursday. That means a moderate health risk and folks were to consider reducing or rescheduling any scheduled strenuous activities. The air quality is expected to fluctuate as the smoke continues to move through the area.
“For the majority of days, given the location of the fire, the smoke is going to get pushed into the valley,” Island Health medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback said.
Those most at risk to increased smoke concentrations are infants, the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease.
Hasselback said raspy coughs, irritated eyes and sore throats are common symptoms for everyone regardless of their health history.
“When people visibly see the air quality is worse they begin to change their behaviour,” Hasselback said. “When you visibly see it or smell it that triggers a believe that it might affect your air quality and people tend to slow down, not go outdoors are much. They tend to do some things that they might just think is the right thing to do, which is not necessarily a bad thing.”
Those experiencing difficulty breathing, chest pain or discomfort, and sudden onset of cough or irritation of airways should consult their health care provider.
The Lizard Lake fire now covers an estimated 325 hectares and is 20 per cent contained.
“The fire did grow and the wind shifted,” Coastal Fire Centre fire information officer Ellie Dupont said Thursday afternoon. “This fire has more resources on it than any other in [the Coastal] Fire Centre. It’s just because it’s so challenging.”
A crew of 157 firefighters, eight helicopters and six pieces of heavy equipment are on scene and are commanded by a 16-person incident management team.
The fire was discovered Aug. 12.
Hasselback said future smoke advisories are partially dependent on the Lizard Lake fire behaving itself, rather, acting in such a way that accurate predictions could be made.
What happened Wednesday night, however, was the fire misbehaving.
“The fire expanded under wind conditions and started burning into new areas so we had a whole bunch of new smoke being generated, hence, we kind of knew the right direction, I don’t think we had a good forecast of the volume of smoke.”
Expect periodically smoky skies and poor air quality to continue as long at the Lizard Lake fire burns.