Smoke over Yellowknife on August 7, 2023. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
In future wildfire seasons, the NWT’s chief public health officer hopes communities will be able to turn to indoor clean-air shelters.
Some communities already do so. Norman Wells opened its town office as a form of shelter when wildfire smoke reached its worst level this summer, while Yellowknife allows free use of its fieldhouse when air quality deteriorates beyond a predetermined point.
However, the air even inside some of those facilities can be poor at times.
As a result, Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola says the territorial government will offer communities indoor air sensors.
Speaking to Cabin Radio last week, Dr Kandola said: “Next year, we still have to anticipate a wildfire season like what we’ve seen.
“One expansion we’re looking at, going forward, is for each community to identify a clean air shelter.”
The NWT’s outdoor sensor network expanded significantly over the past year, just in time to capture a summer of extraordinarily poor air quality across most of the territory.
Small sensors made by a company named PurpleAir were distributed by the GNWT to almost all communities and are said to have outperformed older, bulkier equipment.
Kandola now wants those inside the buildings that communities designate as their indoor shelters.
“We are going to offer communities an indoor air sensor. They’ll be able to know in real time what the quality of air is in their clean shelter,” She said.
“It may not be perfect, but if you have indoor air that’s at 100 and the outdoor air is at 600, it’s a significant improvement,” she continued, quoting example figures from the Air Quality Index, where 100 is mediocre and 600 is among the worst readings available.
After that, Kandola said, the next step is identifying a source of cheap air purifiers.
“During the day, vulnerable people can attend air shelters and breathe better air when conditions are smoky. But at home, people need to be able to access air purifiers to keep their air quality at an improved level,” she said.
“If we anticipate that wildfires are increasing in intensity and frequency – not just in the Northwest Territories but across Canada, across the world – then how do we better prepare ourselves for the next season? What can we do to improve air quality in our homes or in our communities?
“It’s important that everyone has the ability to be able to improve their own air quality. That’s something to be looking at next year as we anticipate the next wildfire season.”