Health officials in Metro Vancouver are urging residents to take precautions as changing winds blow smoke from wildfires in the province’s Interior towards coastal B.C.

Environment Canada and Metro Vancouver issued air quality statements for much of the Lower Mainland Tuesday.

“Certainly, people are going to notice…smoke overhead. They may see smoke mix down to the ground. They may actually smell smoke,” said Geoff Doerksen, an air quality specialist with Metro Vancouver, which monitors air quality from 29 different stations across the region.

“We’re starting to see elevated concentrations in the eastern parts of the Fraser Valley and we would expect that trend to continue and become more widespread.”

The Environment Canada statement also applies to Whistler, Howe Sound, the Sunshine Coast and Greater Victoria as well as several wildfire-affected in the Interior.

The haze blanketed Vancouver Tuesday morning and was clearly visible over downtown and the North Shore Mountains. It is expected to last for at least a few days.

Images from NASA even show the smoke’s westward movement from space.

“The advice is for people to carry on in their day as they normally would,” Doerksen said. “If you have an underlying health condition certainly, we would advise not to perform any strenuous exercise.”

Doersken said the smoke is a health concern because it carries small particles that can aggravate existing lung and heart conditions when inhaled. The smaller the particles, the deeper they can get into a person’s airways.

In the case of wildfires smoke, health officials are especially concerned about PM2.5 particles, which are 2.5 microns in diameter. That’s 20 times smaller than the width of a human hair and four times smaller than conventional dust and pollen particles.

Children, seniors and those with chronic conditions are most at risk of experiencing symptoms associated with the smoke in the air. Residents are urged to stay cool and hydrated and seek medical attention if they experience shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing or chest pain.

Officials are also advising people to avoid the outdoors if possible between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and to check in on at-risk people who live alone.

Smoke expected to lower temperatures

The smoke is also expected to quell a heatwave that was forecasted to hit the Lower Mainland this week.

Environment Canada issued a special weather statement Monday warning of record-breaking temperatures that would reach the mid to high 30s by Wednesday.

On Tuesday, however, the forecast for Vancouver showed temperatures hovering in the mid to high 20s all week and in the low to mid 30s for communities further inland such as Chilliwack and Abbotsford.

The heat wave statement, however, remains in effect.

The BC Wildfire Service said the change in winds is also likely to dry out certain areas of forest, making them more prone to wildfires.

“Members of the public are urged to remain vigilant and help prevent human-caused wildfires,” the release said.

That includes refraining from lighting any open fires, ensuring that propane in recreational vehicles is turned off when travelling and being cautious with all outdoor heat sources.

Under provincial law, the maximum fine for disobeying a fire ban is $1,150. Those found responsible in court for starting a wildfire could be fined up to $1 million and be sentenced to one year in jail.

With files from CTV Vancouver’s Nafeesa Karim, Ben Miljure and David Molko