How to Prepare for Smoke and Air Quality Impacts During Wildfire Season

Posted on April 30, 2024

With Alberta’s and B.C.’s vast forests, wildfires and smoke are a natural part of our spring, summer and fall seasons. Wildfire smoke can also be carried from wildfires as far away as the U.S. – and still affect our air quality here.

When concentrations rise to record levels like we saw in our Airshed in 2023, it’s important to assess how the air quality may affect your health and decide if you need to take precautions.


Getting to know your local Air Quality Health Index (AQHI)

The easiest tool for checking this is the Air Quality Health Index, which is calculated by the Government of Alberta using monitoring station data from all Airsheds in the province, including Fort Air Partnership.

Using a scale from 1 to 10, the AQHI indicates the level of relative health risk associated with local air quality and provides a corresponding outdoor activity recommendation. The higher the number, the greater the potential risk.

In our Airshed, we experienced 2,131 hours of high and very high risk to health ratings last May through September – a 95% increase from the same period in 2022. These high risk to health ratings were almost entirely due to the unprecedented levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) found in wildfire smoke.


How is wildfire smoke potentially harmful?

Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of many gases and particles, but it’s fine particulate matter that poses the main health risk. These particles measure less than 2.5 microns (µm) and less in diameter – so small they can’t be seen without a microscope. To compare, a single strand of human hair is at least 20 times larger, averaging 50-70 µm in diameter. 

It’s these tiny particles that can get into your eyes, respiratory system and bloodstream (source: MyHealth Alberta).


Assessing your personal health risk using the AQHI

Even so, wildfire smoke affects everyone differently. This is why the AQHI is designed to help you decide whether you need to take measures to protect your health, using your own situation and symptoms as a guide.

MyHealth Alberta advises if you don’t have any specific health concerns, you may simply experience burning eyes, a runny nose, or coughing. Or you may experience more severe reactions such as trouble breathing or illnesses like bronchitis.

But if you already have a heart or lung health concern, PM2.5 particles may make it worse.

You are also more at risk if you are pregnant, a senior, or involved in outdoor work or strenuous exercise. Children are more at risk because their respiratory systems are still developing, they breathe in more air and are likely to be more active (source: MyHealth Alberta).

Learn more about the effects of wildfire smoke and tips for reducing your exposure through MyHealth Alberta.


Changes to AQHI calculations in 2024

New in 2024, Alberta is implementing a revised AQHI that will provide earlier health risk warnings to Albertans during exceptional or rapidly changing wildfire events.

Under the original AQHI formula for calculating health risk, a high risk rating was triggered when PM2.5 levels exceeded a threshold[1] of 80 micrograms per cubic metre of air (ug/m3). With the new AQHI, a high risk rating will now be triggered by a lower PM2.5 measurement of 60 ug/m3.

The new AQHI was first developed and piloted in B.C. when officials found that residents near large wildfires were not getting adequate warning in rapidly changing conditions to reduce their exposure to smoke. The change is now being adopted by provinces and territories across Canada to provide consistent reporting, especially during wildfires.


Access to your local AQHI at your fingertips

Your local AQHI rating can be easily checked online or downloaded to your smartphone through a variety of channels:

  1. Monitor the AQHI from your local Airshed. If you live in our Airshed the AQHI ratings for Bruderheim, Elk Island, Fort Saskatchewan, Gibbons, Lamont and Redwater are posted hourly right on our homepage.
  2. Download the WeatherCAN app or another weather reporting app, such as the Weather Network, to check both the current and forecast AQHI for your community.
  3. Tune in to Alberta Health Services air quality advisories or your local media for updates. Most news outlets share special air quality statements or advisories when they are issued.

[1] Based on the Alberta Ambient Air Quality Guideline

Annual General Meeting and Open House

Posted on

Join Fort Air Partnership for a glimpse into how we monitor air quality in your community


Annual General Meeting and Open House

Monday, May 13

6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Normandy Room, Fort Saskatchewan Community Hall

9964 – 93 Avenue, Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta

Refreshments will be served


Agenda includes:

Impact of Wildfire Smoke in 2023

Unveiling of our New Name

Pre-register by May 8 at