The quantitative and qualitative SOS studies understandably take different approaches to understanding the impacts of the Northwest Territories 2014 wildfire season. The qualitative SOS report utilized a three-pronged vulnerability framework in order to understand the impacts of wildfire smoke on four Northwest Territories communities. The framework included considerations related to exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. In this instance exposure refers to specific health outcomes related to the wildfires; sensitivity considers the ability of all involved to address the severity of exposures; lastly, adaptive capacity speaks broadly to the preparedness, approach and adaptive ability of all actors to the health and livelihood effects associated with wildfire and smoke. The aforementioned framework was applied to a series of semi-structured interviews conducted by the research team along with community coordinators. These interviews had the effect of shedding light on myriad ways that the population was affected by prolonged periods of severe smoke cover. Some of these included feelings of isolation and limitations on traditional practices. Quantitative research utilized air quality data from the summers of 2012 and 2013 as a baseline to compare against those of 2014. In particular, the study focused on levels of PM2.5 – fine particulate matter known to cause respiratory issues if inhaled – over various time spans. The study also considered hospital visit information from the Stanton Territorial Hospital, rates of dispensation of respiratory medication (salbumatol) as well as the number of primary care visits in a given wildfire season. Increased need for respiratory medication as well as more frequent access to medical care for difficulty breathing was seen in during the 2014 event. The report anticipates that such record wildfire events will persist in the future, becoming less anomalistic.
In 2020 a team led by Yellowknife physician Dr. Courtney Howard, supported by Yellowknife-based ENGO Ecology North and researchers from the University of Waterloo, completed a project called Summer of Smoke (SOS). Through this, qualitative and quantitative reports were published outlining the effects of major wildfires in the Northwest Territories on its citizens as well as practical actions that can be taken such as improving communication between public health organizations and the public. The qualitative report, entitled ‘Lived Experience of a Record Wildfire Season in the Northwest Territories, Canada’ considers the lived experience of a variety of community members across four locations in the Northwest Territories (Yellowknife, N’Dilo, Detah, and Kakisa) after the wildfire season in the summer of 2014. While no one was directly injured by the wildfires, thick smoke was seen to have major effects on livelihood, mental health, and physical health. Following an in-depth review of themes arising from various semi-structured interviews across the four locations the report provides recommendations for change in order to strengthen community resilience in future events. These recommendations include improved coordination of community-based education, a greater degree of communication between public health agencies and the public as well as inclusive adaptation initiatives. The quantitative study entitled ‘SOS! Summer of Smoke: A retrospective cohort study examining the cardiorespiratory impacts of a severe and prolonged wildfire season in Canada’s high subarctic’ was published 2 years after the qualitative study and details increased instances of hospital visits, primary care visits, and medication dispensation related to respiratory illness following the 2014 wildfire event. This led authors to recommend a series of mitigation and adaptation measures to reduce the negative health impacts of extended periods of exposure to poor air quality deriving from wildfire events.Read the Full Story