Robert Barron column: Looks like another smoky summer on the way for the Island

Was that a smoky haze I saw on my way to work Tuesday morning?

Was that a smoky haze I saw on my way to work Tuesday morning?

Environment Canada issued a special air-quality statement for several regions in the province on Monday stating that wildfire smoke from those wildfires burning away in northern Alberta will likely impact parts of B.C. for at least two days.

Much of central B.C., including Prince George, and areas in the north-east of the province were included in the statement so the smoke wasn’t forecast to drift onto Vancouver Island.

But, judging from that hazy look and feel in the atmosphere in the Cowichan Valley early this week, it certainly looked like it might have.

It brought back unpleasant memories of the past few summers when unusually hot and dry conditions saw hundreds of wildfires burning across much of Alberta and B.C., sending clouds of smoke this way that partially blocked the sun and forced people with respiratory issues into hiding.

I had to continuously sweep ash from fires burning hundreds of miles away from my deck, and the unearthly orange haze caused by the smoke in the atmosphere reminded me more of Saturn’s moon Titan than of Vancouver Island in the middle of summer.

The sun was clearly in the sky, but so obscured by smoke that you could stare right at it without hurting your eyes.

In my more than two decades living on the Island, I had never seen anything like it until just three years ago, and now it seems that climate change might make burning forests and smoky skies more permanent features of our summers every year from now on.

Small wonder then that I get paranoid every time I see any haze in the skies these days, and forecasts from Environment Canada are not encouraging.

Chief meteorologist Chris Scott is calling for more hot, dry weather for most of western Canada this summer and specifically pointed out that B.C. will be “king of the heat” this year.

“We’ve already seen some warm days and we expect June overall will continue that trend,” he said.

Scott also ominously added that there will be an ”above normal season” for wildfires for most of B.C., western Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

Last year was the worst wildfire season on record in B.C., with approximately 1,300,000 hectares burned in almost 600 fires by the end of August, and it looks like the summer of 2019 is quickly lining itself up to be a contender for that record.

There have already been three wildfires right here in the Cowichan Valley alone this season that were quickly dealt with by our efficient and ever-ready fire crews.

But there are fears that our local fire teams could be overwhelmed by fire calls if the forecast for the area turns into a reality this summer.

“Most fire agencies are prepping their materials and increasing their training in preparation for what could be a very busy fire season this year,” Martin Drakeley, North Cowichan’s new manager of fire and bylaw services, told me earlier this month.

So keep looking to the skies; it appears that those smoky conditions that we have learned to dread over the past few summers could become as common a part of our summers as backyard barbecuing.

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