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Canadian Wildfires Blanket US: Minnesota Issues Air Quality Alert

With over 100 active wildfires raging in Canada, the smoke has crossed the border into the United States, prompting Minnesota authorities to issue the state’s inaugural air quality alert of 2024.

Among the 141 active fires in Canada, at least 37 have been categorized as “out of control.” One such fire, which ignited in British Columbia on Friday, has sprawled over 4,200 acres, necessitating the evacuation of Fort Nelson, a small town, and the Fort Nelson Indian Reserve.

The majority of the active blazes, around 90, are concentrated in British Columbia and Alberta provinces. Canada’s National Preparedness Level has elevated to level 2 out of 5, indicating an escalation in wildland fire activity within one or more regions, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center.

In the United States, smoke from the Canadian wildfires has permeated states from Montana to Wisconsin, with Minnesota experiencing particularly dense smoke on Sunday. Minnesota’s air quality alert, issued on Sunday, remains effective through Monday.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) for northern Minnesota has surged between 150 and 200, classifying as “unhealthy,” occasionally surpassing the 200 AQI threshold into the “very unhealthy” range. Bemidji, located in northern Minnesota, recorded a 212 AQI on Sunday, placing it among the world’s worst air quality locales.

Overnight, Minneapolis was forecasted to encounter medium to heavy smoke levels reaching ground level, prompting officials to advise residents, particularly those with allergies, to keep their windows shut until Monday morning.

By Monday dawn, wildfire smoke in the U.S. had considerably diminished, with moderate levels extending from Wisconsin to southern Minnesota. However, Omaha, Nebraska, was anticipated to experience hazier skies by Monday evening due to the influx of wildfire smoke.

Year-to-date, Canada has witnessed over 950 wildfires, nearly triple the count from three weeks earlier. The escalating concerns over the repercussions of wildfire smoke across the United States are expected to exacerbate, as highlighted in a study released in February.

By mid-century, the detrimental impacts of wildfire smoke could pose alarming health risks to 125 million Americans, according to the First Street Foundation, a climate-risk data provider.

In June 2023, smoke from Canadian wildfires enveloped portions of the Northeast and Midwest in a dense, orange haze. Eighteen states, spanning from Montana to New York and extending south to Georgia, were under air quality alerts. New York City ranked atop the world’s worst air quality rankings, according to IQ Air.

Wildfire smoke presents health hazards to all, particularly those with pre-existing conditions. It is linked to strokes, heart disease, respiratory ailments, lung cancer, and premature mortality, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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