Canadian wildfires trigger air quality alerts in four US states

Smog blanketed parts of four US states on Monday, as smoke from wildfires in western Canada triggered air quality alerts and warnings.

There are 146 active wildfires burning in Canada, including dozens in British Columbia and Alberta that are considered “out of control,” according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.

In the United States, the alert was in effect in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, as winds blew smoke into the area.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued an air quality alert Sunday in response to “very heavy smoke plumes from wildfires in northeastern British Columbia.”

Smoke from a wildfire burning in the Grande Prairie forest area east of the town of Teepee Creek in Alberta, Canada on May 10, 2024. Alberta Wildfire Service/AFP – Getty Images

The northern half of the state has been cleared, but “smoke will remain over southern Minnesota on Monday as northerly winds become lighter during the day,” the agency said.

The air quality index on Monday showed conditions ranging from “moderate” to “unhealthy” for the general public in four states. The index was established by the US Environmental Protection Agency to measure daily air pollution levels and communicate associated risks.

Air pollution from wildfires is closely monitored because the tiny particles in smoke that are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter – about 4% the diameter of an average human hair – are small enough to reach deep inside the lungs.

Exposure to this type of particle pollution can cause inflammation and weaken the immune system, and may also cause or increase the risk of asthma, lung cancer and other chronic lung diseases. Older people, infants, children and those who are pregnant are most vulnerable when air quality is poor.

The Air Quality Index measures small particle pollution, called PM2.5, along with four other major pollutants: ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

Wildfire smoke billows over Edmonton, Alberta on Saturday.Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

A fire has engulfed more than 24,000 acres of land in western Canada, the first of a series of large wildfires this season.

On Sunday, officials issued evacuation orders for thousands of residents of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and Fort Nelson First Nations in British Columbia due to the rapidly growing fire.

Last summer, smoke from wildfires in Quebec blanketed large parts of the US, causing air quality levels to drop in cities from the Midwest to the Eastern Seaboard.

Canada experienced the most devastating wildfire in recorded history last year, burning more than 45 million acres, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.

The country is once again preparing for a season of increased fire danger.

The Canadian government said Friday that drought conditions are “expected to persist in high-risk areas into May”, increasing “the risk and intensity of natural and human-caused wildfires.”

Studies have shown that climate change is causing warmer conditions that can more easily dry out vegetation, a key component to the ignition and spread of wildfires. As such, wildfires are expected to become more frequent and more intense in a warming world.

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