Air quality warnings in Minnesota and Wisconsin as Canadian wildfire smoke moves south

If you're in the northern part of the central United States and the sky looks smoky, here's why: Parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin were under an air quality warning Monday morning due to wildfire smoke from Canada.

On Sunday, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued an alert for the entire state, which was set to expire at noon Eastern on Monday. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued an air quality warning for northwestern Wisconsin that will last until 10 a.m. Monday.

The agency said particulate levels are expected to reach the red Air Quality Index category, which it also warned is “a level considered unhealthy for everyone throughout Minnesota.” In those areas, officials said, everyone, and especially vulnerable people, should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion and limit their time outside.

The smoke moved toward Minnesota from behind a cold front Sunday, according to forecasters. In the northern part of the state, air quality was expected to improve overnight, but smoke was still expected to persist through the afternoon.

The smoke is considered unhealthy for everyone in Minnesota and Wisconsin, officials said.

“Wind travels long distances and carries pollutants,” the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said. During air quality alerts caused by wildfires, harmful smoke mixes into the air. How long wildfire smoke lasts depends on the size of the fire, wind and weather.

Firefighters were battling several blazes across Canada over the weekend, including the Teepee Creek fire in Alberta.

One of the largest, the Parker Lake wildfire, started Friday in Fort Nelson, British Columbia, and spread rapidly, helped by a cold front and winds, according to the British Columbia Wildfire Service.

The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and Fort Nelson First Nation issued evacuation orders, affecting thousands of people in Fort Nelson.

The area has experienced several years of drought, making it more vulnerable to “extreme fire behavior,” Wildfire Service fire behavior specialist Ben Baughen said in a recorded video update. More winds are expected Monday morning, which will create challenges in controlling the fire, Mr. Baughen said.

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