Several regions in the U.S. are suffering from poor air quality as smoke from wildfires in Canada drifts south. Much of the of the U.S. has experienced smoky skies for days, creating unhealthy conditions for residents with heart or lung conditions. ABC News reports that the National Weather Service issued an air quality alert for all of Montana, along with parts of Idaho, Colorado, and Arizona. In Utah, the Department of Environmental Quality urged residents on Friday to avoid outdoor activities in places with visible smoke and haze. Heavy smoke began to pour into northeastern Colorado on Friday.
Reuters reported that Alberta authorities hope cooler temperatures and showers forecast for the coming week will help firefighters in the oil-rich Canadian province, although storms could complicate efforts. Forecasters are tracking a front likely to move into Alberta on Sunday that could bring cooler weather. Christie Tucker, information unit manager at Alberta Wildfire, said Saturday the front could mean increased humidity or even rain.
“What we’d like to see is a long steady rain that will soak into the forest and into the ground,” Tucker said. “That will help us more than a short burst that would bring lightning and could spark a new wildfire.”
Alberta has endured energy production cuts, residential evacuations, and poor air quality after an intense start to the wildfire season. This year, Alberta Wildfire has responded to 496 wildfires burning more than 842,000 hectares, compared with just 459 hectares in 2022.
“This year’s total is nearly 2,000 times last year,” Tucker said. Over 2,800 firefighters from Canada and the United States were fighting 91 active fires on Saturday.
Canada’s wildfires have sent smoke to U.S. states including Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Utah, Washington, and Colorado, triggering air quality alerts in several places.
The air quality index on the Front Range in Colorado reached 168 on Friday, according to the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment. A reading between 151 and 200 indicates unhealthy conditions that affect sensitive groups as well as the general public, health officials say. Idaho also saw widespread haze earlier in the week, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.