Air quality monitors coming to BC towns after boy’s wildfire season asthma death

The family of a BC boy who died of an asthma attack during wildfire season has started a new initiative to distribute air quality monitors to small towns across BC.

The boy’s mother, Amber Vigh of 100 Mile House, tells Daily Hive that the closest air quality monitoring station at the time of her son’s death was about an hour’s drive away.

“The day that Carter died we did check the air quality, not knowing that that information was coming from almost 100 kilometres away,” she said. “For that information to have been coming all the way from Williams Lake is extreme. You could go through five different weather systems on the drive from 100 Mile to Williams Lake.”

She believes accurate air quality monitoring in their community could have saved his life.

Carter Vigh and family

Carter Vigh with his family (Submitted)

Nine-year-old Carter spent his last day accompanying his mother’s summer camp to a local water park. The skies were clear, and Vigh said the data she checked indicated the air quality hazard rating was low.

Later that morning, at 11:45 am, BC’s Ministry of Environment issued a Smoky Skies Bulletin for 100 Mile House. Hundreds of wildfires were burning across the province at the time, and CBC reported that the Air Quality Health Index rating that day from Kamloops was a six out of 10 — indicating moderate health risk.

Nine-year-old Carter Vigh worked hard to manage his asthma

Carter was diligent about using his puffer and carrying his EpiPen, both of which he carried with him everywhere in a small kit.

“He didn’t use his puffer anymore or any less than he usually would when it’s hot, and he’s active. Nothing was different that day. Until he was going downhill very fast,” his mother said.

Carter remained in good spirits throughout the day, but as smoke began to roll in during the afternoon, Vigh called her friend to pick Carter up and drive him back — she didn’t want him outside when it was smokey. Vigh walked the 10 minutes back to the local arena with the other children to meet him.

Mother and son did groceries after camp, when he informed her he was keen for a slurpee from 7/11. But Carter began having an asthma attack at home while Vigh was cooking dinner. His parents gave him his puffer and ran a cool bath to calm him down, as they often did.

But in the bath, Carter’s asthma got bad again.

Vigh decided to drive him to the hospital. This wasn’t out of the ordinary either. Carter had to go to the hospital for oxygen during bad attacks once or twice per year.

Rather than wait for an ambulance, Vigh took Carter in her truck while she called 911. Hospital workers were ready to take Carter inside five minutes later.

The family arrived at the hospital around 6 pm. Carter was dead before 7:30.

“They worked on him for all that time. I remember at one point, they were trying to give him an IV, and I said, ‘he’s not going to like this.’ And he didn’t even react to it. At that point i knew something really bad was wrong.”

Vigh remembers her son as the “most vibrant” and “sweetest kid,” who’d find something in common with anyone, whether they were two or 82 years old. He was very close with his siblings and loved playing soccer.

“He was an incredible kid, and he would’ve made a difference in this world had he been given the opportunity and the time.”

The family began conversations with the BC Lung Foundation in November about creating an initiative to distribute air quality monitors to small towns across BC — so families like theirs can know what the actual air quality is like before making decisions about their day.

Several months later, Carter’s Project is almost ready to roll out.

Carter Vigh


It will launch on May 14, when the first 100 air quality monitors will be delivered to residents of 100 Mile House to access real-time data on air quality. The first 100 monitors are fully subsidized. The May 14 launch will also include demonstrations on how to make an at-home air filter and information on asthma and wildfire smoke.

“The skies were clear, but the air over 100 Mile was, invisibly, very poor,” the BC Lung Foundation says on its website. “Local, real-time air quality monitoring would likely have saved his life.”

BC’s Environment Ministry tells Daily Hive the interest in community-level air quality monitoring is encouraging.

The province posts current air quality information online via its Smoky Skies Bulletin, adding it “regularly reviews and evaluates its ability to deploy air quality monitoring equipment to communities of all sizes.”

“We were all profoundly saddened by the loss of Carter,” the Ministry said.

Carter’s death prompted the BC Coroner’s Service to issue a warning about the health effects of wildfire smoke, confirming at the time that a nine-year-old died of complications from a medical condition made worse by smoke.

“As the province experiences greater impacts from the effects of climate change, British
Columbians are learning more about the risks associated with wildfire smoke, extreme heat
and other environmental factors,” the Coroners Service said.

Vigh has dreams of bringing air quality monitors to every small community across BC and eventually across Canada.

“Nine years was not enough time with him. A lifetime wouldn’t have been enough time,” she said. “But I’m so grateful for the time that we did get and that we’re able to do this in his honour and make a difference in the world.”