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Air-quality rating expected to deteriorate tonight, into Friday

'I think we were slightly shocked to see this. It's not unfamiliar to see wildfires in Alberta or the East Coast, but to see it now on our front doorstep really brings it close to home,' says Dr. Gardner
The view of Barrie from Essa Road looking south over a hazy city skyline on Wednesday.

As uncontrolled wildfires continue to burn around northern Ontario and Quebec, public health officials in the b area say people should try their best to limit their exposure to poor air quality.

Dangerous smoke has been drifting hundreds of kilometres into other regions and the United States.

The provincial government says that, as of Wednesday, there were 34 wildfires burning in the northeast and northwest of the province. That number has not been updated since yesterday. Meanwhile, there were more than 100 fires in parts of Quebec, adding to the air-quality concerns.

The constant burning smell hanging in the air has been making it dangerous for many people and has led to various outdoor events being cancelled. Collingwood United Soccer Club has cancelled all activities for June 8. 

As of 3 p.m., Thursday, the Air Quality Health Index in the Barrie area (including Collingwood) was four, which is considered 'moderate risk,' but is expected to jump to seven tonight and into Friday, which is deemed 'high risk.'

For people with health issues, the federal government urges a reduction or rescheduling of strenuous outdoor activities. Children and the elderly should also take it easy. Even those in good health are being advised to consider similar changes to outdoor activities if they experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation.

At Wednesday night’s Barrie city council meeting, medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner, from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, said the region had started to see a rise in the number of emergency-room visits for respiratory ailments.

“I think we were slightly shocked to see this," he said. "It's not unfamiliar to see wildfires in Alberta or the East Coast, but to see it now on our front doorstep really brings it close to home. We are seeing adverse air quality right here in our own community and, for that matter, a great portion of Canada and the United States.”

Gardner said his advice is to reduce exposure to the outdoors, but he understands that can be hard.

“It's difficult to do, of course, as we are obliged to go out. For that matter, the outdoor air can get inside,” he added. “It's important for people to be wary and for us to raise awareness so people know what they can do, but it really is limited as to what people can do.”

And with wildfires raging in other parts of Ontario, what does that mean here in the city?

Barrie Fire Chief Cory Mainprize says some areas are just more susceptible to wildfires than others.

“Wildland fires are common in any forest or grassland areas from May to September,” he told BarrieToday. “Areas with a high coniferous tree population are at an increased risk of fire due faster fire spread and an increased combustible ground cover. Areas subjected to warmer weather or periods of low precipitation also have an increased risk of the frequency and severity of wildfires.”

While Barrie has many wooded areas and is surrounded by vast amounts of forest, Mainprize said there is no danger of seeing the similar, uncontrolled fires happening here.

“Barrie is not located in an area that presents any significant risk that would result in an uncontrollable wildfire. Additionally, all forested areas in Barrie are reasonably accessible for firefighting operations,” he said. “It would be anticipated that if an area closer to Barrie experienced a significant fire, the air quality could be diminished.”

In the unlikely event the city was affected by a significant wildfire, Mainprize said local firefighters are trained to handle those kinds of situations and have procedures in place to ensure residents would be safe and their property protected.

Fire bans are currently in effect for numerous municipalities, including Collingwood, The Blue Mountains, Springwater Township, Oro-Medonte, Midland, Grey Highlands, Essa, and Clearview Township.