Highlands residents have been put on alert after Environment Canada updated its air quality health index June 6, with conditions County-wide deemed to be high-risk.

Smoke plumes from forest fires in Algonquin Park, east of Bancroft, and Quebec have resulted in deteriorated air quality across much of southern Ontario this week, with the federal agency marking conditions in the Dorset area eight out of 10 in a special air quality statement released Wednesday. It’s expected to reach nine by Thursday evening.

“High levels of air pollution are possible… wildfire smoke can be harmful to everyone’s health even at low concentrations,” the statement reads.

Richard Ovcharovich, manager of environmental health with the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge (HKPR) district health unit, recommended seniors, children, and people with heart and lung conditions avoid strenuous activities outdoors while bad conditions persist.

“Stay inside if you have breathing difficulties. Find an indoor place that’s cool and ventilated. Using an air conditioner that cools and filters air may help,” he said. “If your home isn’t air conditioned, consider going to a public place like a library or recreation centre. Keep your indoor air clean by keeping doors and windows closed.

“For the general population, if you experience irritation of eyes, nose or throat, shortness of breath or other respiratory symptoms while outdoors, you should take action to reduce your exposure to outdoor air pollution,” he added.

According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s (MNRF) forest fire info map, as of 3 p.m. June 7 there are two active fires raging in Algonquin Park, totalling approximately 32 hectares, and a 50-hectare blaze burning roughly 40-kilometres east of Bancroft.

Environment Canada, in its air quality statement, noted, “people respond differently to smoke. Mild irritation and discomfort are common, and usually disappear when the smoke clears. Drinking lots of water can help your body cope with the smoke.”

The agency said running fans and HEPA filters at home can help air quality indoors, recommending against vacuuming, frying foods, or burning candles.

A complete fire ban remains in place across Haliburton County, after being implemented June 1. Forest fire danger ratings for the County, as determined by MNRF, are high, with some parts of Highlands East marked extreme.

Campfires, bonfires, fireworks, charcoal BBQs, outdoor candles and lanterns, tiki torches, propane fire pits, chimineas and the burning of leaves or brush are all prohibited County wide. Burn permits assigned prior to June 1 have also been suspended.