Smoke, heat and the Sorrento Centre

A message from Michael Shapcott, Executive Director

Our beautiful world is deeply troubled by extreme weather (fires, floods, tornados and more) that is, in turn, triggered by human-induced climate change. Our wonderful Shuswap region is also affected – high temperatures, drought and, in the last few days, smoke-filled air from nearby fires. All this happened as we welcomed the 20th annual BC Swing Camp – almost 200 musicians from near and far who fill the air with joyful sounds.

In this note, I want to share a few facts and then say how we, and our guests, are responding. I want to thank Swing Camp staff, our staff, the campers and many others for helping to pivot quickly in the face of wildfire smoke.

First, the facts:

The Air Quality Health Index (the official BC air quality index with updates hourly) started the week at Low before rising to Very High on Wednesday and Thursday. The health message when the index is Low is to continue normal activities, but as it moves up, precautions and then warnings grow. At Very High, the health message is direct: at risk population – avoid strenuous activities outdoors. Children and the elderly are advised to avoid outdoor physical exertion; general population – reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors especially if you experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation. “Local smoke” from the wildfire near Adams Lake blanketed our Centre and the entire region.

The Adams Lake wildfire is to the north of the Shuswap (we are on the south side of the lake) about 25k or so from our Centre. Smoke from the wildfire, and from the controlled burns used to fight the fire, has filled the skies. While there have been evacuations and alerts in the vicinity of the wildfire, there are no restrictions or alerts for the Sorrento Centre.

The rise in the smoke level has coincided with high temperatures in the mid-30s. Night-time temperatures have been in the more pleasant upper teens. A cooling spell is expected Friday and through the weekend, with the possibility of rain. The forecast is that very high smoke levels will start to drop on Thursday evening and beyond.

Our response:

The Sorrento Centre values the health and well-being of our guests, staff and neighbours. We have been regularly monitoring air quality, as well as wildfires. As the situation worsened at Adams Lake we have been monitoring daily and communicated with guests and staff.

When the smoke index reached a very high level, we had masks ready for our guests and staff. We opened cool and air-conditioned spaces on our campus for staff and guests. We strongly encouraged our guests (and ensured that our staff) to avoid strenuous activities outside.

Our guests, including our musical friends at BC Swing Camp, enjoy the 24-acre main campus of  the Sorrento Centre. Starting Wednesday, as the smoke restricted outdoor activities, we worked with organizers of the music camp to ensure all classes and other events had an indoor location. Our neighbours at the Sorrento Memorial Hall and St Mary’s Anglican / United Church stepped up. We even pressed one of our staff residences into service.

Both swing camp and the Sorrento Centre are keen to provide the best possible musical experience, and we are grateful how everyone – from the campers to swing camp organizers to our staff team – worked effectively together. Together, we helped to ensure the music will go on, and everyone will be as safe and healthy as possible.

From me, as Executive Director of Sorrento Centre, to our great staff team, the swing camp organizers and the almost 200 musicians who are part of the 20th annual BC Swing Camp, thank you for your willingness to work together in the best interests of all.

And, finally, I want to acknowledge that as wonderful as it has been to work with such a great group of people to face the latest climate challenge in our region, we all need to commit to take action to tackle human-induced climate change. Here in the Shuswap, one of our champions is the Shuswap Climate Action Society. There are plenty of other good groups right across the country and internationally.

Take time to fall back in love with Mother Nature and don’t stop there. Get aware, get engaged and take action. Together, we can make a difference.

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