NEAR OLIVER — For a second day, the Okanagan is blanketed in a thick haze because southerly winds pushed smoke from wildfires burning in Washington State north over the weekend.
B.C. Wildfire Service crews battling the Testalinden wildfire burning about seven kilometres south of Oliver have had to change their tactics after helicopters had to be grounded due to the smoke.
READ MORE: Okanagan smoke may linger for a few days
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“We are not able to use helicopters for any sort of fire work but we are able to use them on occasion for quick little flights over the fire to move people around,” says Fire Information Officer Heather Rice.
Rice says crews are working around the clock to try and contain the forest fire which is estimated to be 3,170 hectares.
“We successfully did some burning off on those north contingency lines to help build contingency lines to the north,” says Rice.
Meanwhile, the Evacuation Alert for the Wilsons Mountain Fire has been rescinded and Rice says crews are working through the hazy conditions to burn out any remaining hot spots.
Kelowna International Airport (YLW) flights have not been impacted by the smoke.
“We’ve been fortunate nothing has been affected with flights, the visibility has been enough for the aircraft with their instrument landing systems,” says Jenelle Hynes with YLW. “No delays either, very minor, it hasn’t caused major problems.”
Two flights, one Air Canada and one Westjet, were unable to land at Penticton Regional Airport on Sunday and were diverted to YLW.
“At this time, air carriers say flights are still scheduled to land in Penticton and take off from there but pilots are making that judgement upon approach,” says Hynes.
The Smoky Skies advisory issued by the Ministry of Environment and the Interior Health Authority (IHA) Sunday morning is still in effect on Monday.
“While this episode is expected to persist until a major shift in wind patterns and weather conditions, smoke concentrations will vary widely as winds, fire behaviour and temperatures change,” according to a statement.
The air quality advisory is also in effect for the Okanagan, Similkameen, Fraser Canyon areas, north and south Thompson, Shuswap, Nicola areas, southern Boundary and Kootenay areas and the central and eastern Fraser Valley in Metro Vancouver.
Interior Health says residents are advised to “avoid strenuous outdoor activities. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms contact your health care provider: difficulty in breathing, chest pain or discomfort, and sudden onset of cough or irritation of airways.”
Infants, the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions are the most vulnerable to the smoke.
The Air Quality Health Index rates the valley’s air as “high” to “very high” health risk.