Sunday, June 16

Minnesota and Wisconsin See Air Quality Warnings as Canadian Wildfire Smoke Drifts South

If you’re in the northern part of the Central United States and the skies look smoky, here’s why: Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin were under an air quality alert on Monday because of wildfire smoke from Canada.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued the alert for the southern portion of the state, which was set to expire at 11 p.m. Central time on Monday.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued an air quality alert on Monday for northwestern Wisconsin that was set to last through the day.

Fine particle levels were expected to reach the red air quality index category, the agency said, which also warned that was “a level considered unhealthy for everyone, across all of Minnesota.”

In those areas, officials said, everybody, and particularly sensitive people, should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion and should limit their time outdoors. Sensitive people include those with asthma, people with heart disease or high blood pressure and children and older adults.

The smoke drifted to Minnesota on Sunday, behind a cold front, according to forecasters. In the northern part of the state, air quality had been expected to improve overnight, but smoke was still expected to persist through Monday.

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

“Air moves long distances and carries pollutants,” the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said. During air quality alerts caused by wildfires, the air is mixed with harmful smoke. How long wildfire smoke lingers depends on the size of the fires, the wind and the weather.

Firefighters were battling multiple wildfires in Canada over the weekend, including the Teepee Creek fire in Alberta.

One of the biggest, the Parker Lake wildfire, started in Fort Nelson, British Columbia, on Friday and spread quickly with the help of 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 that have affected about 7,200 people in those areas and the town of Fort Nelson since the weekend, Bowinn Ma, the minister of emergency management and climate readiness for British Columbia, said at a news conference on Monday.

“This is an extremely difficult time for people that have been impacted,” she said. “Our thoughts are with you and the province is there to support you.”

She added that the Parker Lake wildfire was more than 13,000 acres on Monday and about a mile west of Fort Nelson.

“The next 48 hours will be a challenging situation for the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality,” she said, noting that westerly winds and extremely dry conditions in the area were contributing to the wildfire.

The region has experienced multiple years of drought, making it more susceptible to “extreme fire behavior,” Ben Boghean, a fire behavior specialist for the British Columbia Wildfire Service, said in a recorded video update.

More winds were expected on Monday morning, Mr. Boghean said, posing challenges to controlling the fire.

Johnny Diaz contributed reporting.