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NEWS RELEASE · 10th August 2010
Ministry of Environment
The Province has helped launched an innovative resource that uses satellite technology and weather data to forecast smoke caused by wildfires, allowing British Columbians to see and plan for changes in smoke and air quality levels, announced Ida Chong, Minister of Healthy Living and Sport.

The BlueSky Western Canada Smoke Forecasting System combines forest fire information, including location and size, with weather forecast computer models to provide an hour-by-hour forecast of the location and concentrations of smoke in B.C. and Alberta up to 48 hours into the future.

"BlueSky provides British Columbians with daily forecasts of wildfire smoke, which can reduce visibility and affect both respiratory health and the ability of people to participate in outdoor activities," said Chong. "In addition to our commitment to world-class air quality standards and targets, BlueSky builds on the leading-edge resources and updated air quality information available on the provincial air quality website at www.bcairquality.ca."

Since 2007, the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport, Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Forests and Range have been working in partnership with numerous agencies to develop a smoke forecasting system for B.C. and Alberta at a total cost of $95,000. Organizations involved include Environment Canada, Alberta Environment, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Natural Resources Canada, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the United States Forest Service.

"Wildfire smoke has been affecting communities across B.C.," said Environment Minister Barry Penner. "The BlueSky Western Canada Smoke Forecasting System can help people anticipate and prepare for air quality changes. While BlueSky will be used regularly by air quality meteorologists along with the public, it will also help the tourism sector, and transportation, health services and environmental regulatory agencies."

BlueSky is operated by UBC's Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences and is based on a similar system used in the United States. Smoke forecasts for B.C. and Alberta are produced daily and displayed as hour-by-hour animations of smoke plume locations with corresponding fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations due to smoke.

The new tool will help British Columbia's Ministry of Environment decide when to issue air quality advisories to warn the public about the risks from wood smoke, which inform vulnerable individuals who need to minimize their exposure. Alberta is also expected to benefit from this information.

"During forest fire events, impacted areas and health agencies need as much advanced warning as possible," said Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner. "Our combined efforts to establish this system will ensure Albertans and British Columbians have the information they need during fire season."

BlueSky smoke forecasts are available daily in visual animations from B.C.'s air quality website at www.bcairquality.ca/bluesky.