At least forest fires eventually burn out

For those who experienced a Summer exposed to wood smoke from forest fires, the thought of yet another Fall, Winter, and Spring filled with locally-produced wood smoke from fireplaces and wood stoves is a horrifying one.

Many are now exposed to particulate pollution for virtually 12 months of the year, and in rural and semi-rural communities these exposures are usually higher and almost never recorded by local, regional, or national governments.

Our PurpleAir network shows the impacts of larger scale fire events as well as hyper-local impacts associated with residential wood burning practices. The pattern of smoke generated is clear and easy to interpret.

Below is ambient air pollution from forest fires over the past week. This PurpleAir sensor is located in the Kamloops region. This pattern of smoke has a roller coaster appearance, and in this case PM2.5 reached around 165 on the US EPA AQI scale.

Below is a screen capture from our network showing a range of readings from central Vancouver Island and Gabriola Island. Note the reading of 158. This is from a sensor located in a residential area of Parksville where we have recorded high levels of PM2.5 from early September until June due to a local who burns wood in an EPA-certified wood stove.

We know from the map that this is a neighbourhood-level effect, and the pattern below is indicative of residential wood burning. Note how much quicker the changes are compared to forest fire smoke yet the levels are almost the same.

For tens of thousands of people living in BC, residential wood burning by neighbours, wood burning restaurants, and backyard brush burning creates extremely high, long-term exposures to particulate pollution.

Although it's difficult to reduce exposures from forest fires, it is fully possible and relatively easy to deal with residential exposures. Unfortunately, most elected officials are in deep denial on this issue and often prefer to ignore it.


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