Smoke from Canadian wildfires prompts air-quality alert for all Minnesota

12 May 2024

DULUTH — Smoke from Canadian wildfires was predicted to spread across the state Sunday, prompting the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to issue an air-quality alert for the entire state.

The agency said a cold front was bringing in wildfire smoke from fires in northeast British Columbia.

As of noon Sunday, air quality around the Bemidji area was considered “very unhealthy,” with most of Northwestern Minnesota in the “unhealthy” classification. The entire state was expected to reach “unhealthy” levels throughout the day. That’s a level where the air’s fine-particle levels are considered unhealthy for everyone. The MPCA said sensitive groups should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion and everyone should limit outdoor exertion and time spent outdoors.

“The entire state will see impacts from this smoke,” the MPCA said in its alert.

According to the MPCA, the smoke was expected move from north to south throughout the day, with its effects at their maximum for each region at the following times:

Northern Minnesota — through 5 p.m. Sunday.
Central Minnesota and the Twin Cities — 5 p.m. Sunday through overnight.
Southern Minnesota — 7 p.m. Sunday through overnight.

The MPCA’s air quality forecast shows Northeastern Minnesota’s air quality improving Monday, with the region largely in the “good” air quality category while the rest of the state will reach the “good” air quality by Tuesday.

The National Weather Service in Duluth said the smoke will reach ground level thanks to “deep mixing” behind a cold front moving through the region.

The Iron Range and Superior National Forest were blanketed in smoke from Canada, prompting some to call 911.

“If you are noticing a large amount of smoke in the air, it is most likely due to fires currently burning in Canada,” the Ely Police Department said in a Facebook post on Sunday morning. “There has been several 911 calls coming in from all along the northern part of the county and so far there have been no active fires located in association with the smoke.”

Air quality is determined by hourly measurements of fine particles, ground-level ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide.

Last year, the state saw 52 air-quality alert days, 16 due to wildfire smoke, and nine reaching the highest air quality index alert, meaning the air is hazardous for everyone.

State officials last week predicted this year won’t be as bad but that residents should expect more air-quality alerts than normal. While wildfire may be less of a factor, slightly above-normal temperatures are expected to trap gases, like those in vehicle exhaust, closer to earth.


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