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In May 2023 wildfires in northern Alberta, Canada caused significant impact on air quality as thick smoke engulfed areas across Canada and the United States. On May, 17th, 2023, the day this photograph was taken, the Air Quality Health Index from the Government of Canada measured 10+, the highest rating possible. Photo by Dwayne Reilander - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=132070486
27 Jun 2023

Summer of 2023 Quebec wildfires may continue to burn - and pollute the air - until autumn

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Over the past weekend, pollution levels in Eastern Canada has skyrocketed again. An engineer near Ottawa took this reading on Sunday afternoon, June 25.
Over the past weekend, pollution levels in Eastern Canada has skyrocketed again. An engineer near Ottawa took this reading on Sunday afternoon, June 25.

"It is pretty much impossible to be outside at all right now", he said to CTIF News. Photo: Dennis Lundström.

UPDATED JUNE 27:

The air quality health index for the Canadian capital Ottawa reached 10+ on Sunday morning, indicating a "very high risk" to human health, as smoke from wildfires in northern Quebec drifted in.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) put out a special air quality statement on Sunday morning warning of "high levels of air pollution" in Ottawa due to the smoke, according to the CBC. 

Smoke from fires burning in northern Quebec has affected Montreal, and Ottawa again, leading to poor air quality that is five to six times worse than in early June, according to  medical director David Kaiser at Montreal Public Health.

Earlier in June large parts of the United States were also covered in smoke, causing severe air quality warnings in New York, which made world news headlines over the entire globe.  

Since then, much of the smoke has cleared in areas further away from the ongoing fires. However, for millions living closer the fires, air quality is still very much an issue.

The City of Ottawa announced it has cancelled outdoor recreational programs it directly operates, closed all outdoor pools and put a no-swim advisory on city beaches for Sunday.

According to IQAir,  a Swiss technology company that monitors air quality, the city of Montreal had the most polluted air among dozens of major cities included in its rankings as of 4 p.m. Sunday.

 

Rain and thunder in Quebec may clear the air this week

Currently there is much needed rain in the province of Quebec where the majority of the wildfires are ongoing. However, there is also a warning for severe thunderstorms, and high winds in the weather forecast. Montreal is expecting showers and thunderstorms Monday and Tuesday, with a rainfall of about 20 to 40 millimeters expected. 

During Tuesday a lot of the smoke cleared for Ottawa, however according to Firesmoke.ca, smoky skies could return as early Wednesday if current wind patterns stay in place. 

 

Official recommendations:

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) said lung disease, heart disease and pregnancy can all increase risk. Older people, children and those who work outdoors are also at higher risk of negative health effects, it said.

Inside, a MERV filter with a rating of 13 or higher can help, as can a portable HEPA air cleaner. Those who must spend time outdoors should use a well-fitted respirator-type mask to filter out fine particles, the statement said.

 

It´s pretty much impossible to be outside right now"

 

Original post on June 22, 2023

Canada has had a historical wildfire season which started unusually early, and which has spread thick smog-like conditions over large parts of North America. As many 100,000 people may have been evacuated throughout the country since the fires started in Alberta in March. 

The latest of the Canadian fires are ongoing in Quebec, and they have also made the biggest headlines - both due to their size, and to their impact on air quality in Eastern United States. 

During June, France sent 100 firefighters to Quebec to help with the wildfire situation.  French President Emmanuel Macron announced the decision on June 4th, according to French sources, as well as an article in CBC.ca on June 4. 

 
Photo Credits: Wikipedia Commons License
(Cover photo above) In May 2023 wildfires in northern Alberta, Canada caused significant impact on air quality as thick smoke engulfed areas across Canada and the United States. On May, 17th, 2023, the day this photograph was taken, the Air Quality Health Index from the Government of Canada measured 10+, the highest rating possible. Photo by Dwayne Reilander - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=132070486

 

Canadian wildfire smoke hits Minneapolis today prompting air quality warnings. Photo by Chad Davis from Minneapolis, United States - Canadian Wildfire Smoke in Minneapolis, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=132122948
Canadian wildfire smoke hits Minneapolis prompting air quality warnings. Photo by Chad Davis from Minneapolis, United States - Canadian Wildfire Smoke in Minneapolis, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=132122948

It is hard to get a complete overview of everything that has happened this fire season in Canada, because the situation so far involves thousands of individual fires, some managed, some out of control - and some which have merged into larger fires - over several provinces. 

 

An area the size of the Netherlands is affected 

Swedish Television /SVT.se) wrote yesterday in an article that the wildfires in Canada (Mostly Quebec at this point) occupy an area equivalent to the size of the Netherlands and are expected to continue to spread. At the same time, air pollution extends across the continent.

"If the fires continue, the particles may remain until autumn", says Swedish forest fire researcher Lennart Robertson to SVT.se.

 

"The fires are so extensive that they can no longer be stopped, all focus is on saving communities while waiting for autumn's cooler temperatures and rain", writes SVT.se in an adjacent article on the situation, after SVT's foreign correspondent Ulrika Bergsten made a reportage trip to some of the affected areas and spoke to residents. 

"The fires, described as historic in their scope, stretch across the country from coast to coast and over 100,000 thousand people have been evacuated and toxic smoke and soot flakes in the air, dangerous for humans to inhale, have been measured across the American continent.... So far, there are no signs that the situation will improve. On the contrary, further increases in temperature and several fires are expected in the near future".

 

By NASA, NASA Earth Observatory image by Wanmei Liang, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview. - NASA Earth Observatory, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/151407/raging-fires-in-nova-scotia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=132634383

For much of May 2023, wildland fires raged in western Canada. In the last few days of the month, blazes flared up thousands of miles to the east as well, in the Atlantic province of Nova Scotia. The fires, unusually large for Nova Scotia, forced the evacuation of thousands of people. Smoke billowed from a fire near the town of Shelburne on May 29, when an astronaut on the International Space Station took this photograph. Wikipedia Commons License

Started in Alberta already in March

The first fires in Canada started in the province of Alberta in March after a very dry winter. On May 6, the province of Alberta declared a provincial state of emergency.  The provincial state of emergency ended on June 3. As of June 7, the province said there had been 591 reported wildfires in the province since March. (some of these facts are from Wikipedia)

When the wildfires broke out in Canada,  especially the later Quebec fires, soot particles and pollution quickly spread across the northern United States. The air quality in several large cities has deteriorated significantly and people are still, according to what  SVT.se writes on June 22, being asked to stay indoors or use face masks in several areas. At the beginning of June, the worst air quality ever was measured in New York.

Today, the forest fires in Canada occupy a geographical area corresponding to the entire area of the Netherlands with a severe risk of the situation continuing for several months to come, reports SVT's foreign correspondent Ulrika Bergsten.

 

Province of Alberta:

As of May, Alberta was the province most impacted by wildfires. As of June 7, the province said there had been 591 reported wildfires in the province since March. Multiple settlements were placed under evacuation orders, resulting in over 29,000 Albertans being evacuated by May 7. On May 11, at least 300 members of the Canadian Armed Forces were sent to different parts of Alberta to help.

 

Provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador saw 34 wildfires before May 1. This far outpaced the 2022 season, which saw only 2 fires in that same period. The reason was attributed to dry conditions.[Between May 1 and 19, 19 other fires were recorded. Wet conditions in early June created a low fire risk for Newfoundland, allowing water bombers from Newfoundland to be deployed to assist with firefighting efforts in Labrador, Nova Scotia and Quebec.

 

North West Territories

As of June 7, there were eleven active wildfires in the Northwest Territories. At that point, there had been 21 total fires, affecting 403,815 hectares (997,850 acres). 

 

Province of Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia saw the largest recorded wildfires in its history.  On June 1, there were four out-of-control fires in the province. In suburban Halifax, an estimated 200 structures were destroyed by fire. 16,000 residents were evacuated from the city of Halifax.

 

Province of Ontario:

Smoke from the fires caused air quality in OttawaToronto, as well as most of Southern Ontario on June 5–7 to hit the highest level on Environment Canada's Air Quality Health Index, the worst in the province of Ontario. Air quality also hit the highest level in Kingston and Belleville, Ontario.

 

Province of Quebec:

Quebec has been particularly hard hit during the 2023 wildfire season, with more frequent wildfires than in the past, and fewer resources and experience with which to fight them. As of June 10, the province had reported 446 fires, compared to the average of 212 for the same date.

On June 8, 137 fires were active in Quebec and 54 in Ontario. 

As of June 4, 14,000 residents had been evacuated from their homes in Quebec. On June 6, 7,500 residents were evacuated from Chibougamau, the largest town in Northern Quebec.

 

This image, acquired on 7 June 2023 by a Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellite, shows plumes from the Canadian fires reaching the American East Coast. In a region-spanning event, New York City found itself shrouded in thick smoke while Philadelphia and Washington DC declared a 'code red' emergency. Photo by Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data {{{year}}}, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=132854025
This image, acquired on 7 June 2023 by a Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellite, shows plumes from the Canadian fires reaching the American East Coast. In a region-spanning event, New York City found itself shrouded in thick smoke while Philadelphia and Washington DC declared a 'code red' emergency. Photo by Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data {{{year}}}, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=132854025

 

THIS TEXT IS BEING UPDATED