Smoke obscures the view of the Williams Lake Stampede Grounds Friday morning.

Particulate matter levels in Williams Lake high enough to concern all

On a normal summer day levels would be between five and 15 micrograms per cubic metre. They are above 621.

Williams Lake’s smoke level has increased tremendously in the last 24 hours.

Visibility is very poor for driving and some workers and residents have resorted to wearing protective masks.

As of 9 a.m. Friday morning the particulate matter (PM2.5) level, or concentration of smoke, was over 600 micrograms per cubic metre, confirmed Ralph Adams, air quality meteorologist with the Ministry of Environment from Kamloops.

“You are right, this is way worse than it has been for the last days,” Adams said.

For most of the week the air quality index rating for Williams Lake has been 10-plus or very high risk.

When the air quality index rating is that high, it will jump to 10-plus because it only goes from one to 10.

“After 10 they don’t increment it because the health messaging doesn’t change.”

Karen Hill, interim critical care manager at Cariboo Memorial Hospital said Friday there has been a slight increase in patients presenting to the hospital with symptoms related to wildfire smoke.

“Wildfires across the province have resulted in poor air quality in Williams Lake and it’s important that people take steps to seek cleaner air and reduce smoke exposure,” Hill said. “Residents should be aware if they are at a higher risk, monitor their symptoms and follow the recommendations of the air quality health index.”

Read more: Take precautions when skies are smoky urges Interior Health

On a normal summer day the PM2.5 level sits between five and 15 micrograms.

“There were a few hours where you were higher than 600 last year during the 2017 wildfires, but the values you are experiencing this morning are comparable to the values of last year. Your levels are higher than Prince George and Quesnel.”

This summer there have been more continuous days with high smoke, but the concentrations have been hovering around 200 micrograms.

“It appears that whatever is causing the smoke in Williams Lake is actually now approaching Kamloops,” Adams said. “I assume this means that smoke from one of those large fires to the west of Quesnel is being carried across. There’s a light wind, but it’s enough. The webcams on Highway 24 are showing very heavy smoke and the webcam at Little Fort shows the top of the mountains covered in smoke.”

The “bad” news, he added, is there’s no change in the weather in the next short while.

“When we get these very high levels like you are having in Williams Lake usually they don’t last that long because they are due to smoke being brought from a fire. My experience is they tend to last for 24 to 48 hours and then the wind changes. But right now there’s no sign that the weather systems over B.C. are going to change enough to either have an effect on the fires or to have an effect on clearing the smoke out.”

Meanwhile, in Prince George, the skies turned black Friday morning.

Melanie Ablitt, owner of Walk-Rite Shoes shot this video outside her Prince George store at 9:15 a.m. and shared it on Facebook.

Read more: A look at B.C. wildfire smoke from space

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Smoke-filled commute alongside South Lakeside Drive in Williams Lake Friday.

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