Wildfires in Canada force evacuations as harmful smoke blows into the US

ByParadise Afshar and Sara Smart, CNN CNNWire logo
Monday, May 13, 2024
Canadian wildfire smoke blows into US, impacting air quality in Midwest
The smoke is impacting cities including the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, as well as several tribal areas, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said.

Thousands across Canada have been urged to evacuate as the smoke from blazing wildfires endangers air quality and visibility and begins to waft into the US.

Some 3,200 residents in northeastern British Columbia were under an evacuation order Saturday afternoon as the Parker Lake fire raged on in the area, spanning more than 4,000 acres. Meanwhile, evacuation alerts are in place for parts of Alberta as the MWF-017 wildfire burns out of control near Fort McMurray in the northeastern area of the province, officials said. The fire had burned about 16,000 acres as of Sunday morning.

Smoke from the infernos has caused Environment Canada to issue a special air quality statement that extends from British Columbia to Ontario.

Residents in portions of British Columbia "are being impacted or are likely to be impacted by wildfire smoke over the next 24-48 hours," Saturday's alert said. Smoke coming from northeastern British Columbia is causing "very poor air quality and reduced visibility" in parts of Alberta, according to the alert.

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"Conditions should begin to improve Sunday night for much of the province. Over northwestern Alberta conditions are likely to remain poor through Monday or possibly Tuesday," the alert said.

In parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, wildfire smoke could bring periods of poor air quality and reduced visibility, the statement said.

Smoke from Canada has also begun to blow into the US, prompting an alert across Minnesota due to unhealthy air quality. The smoke is impacting cities including the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, as well as several tribal areas, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said.

"Smoke will clear the northern half of the state overnight and air quality will improve there. Smoke will persist through midday Monday across southern Minnesota and air quality will gradually improve through the day as the smoke begins to disperse," the state agency said.

Just last year, Canadian wildfires made their way to parts of the United States and caused dangerous air conditions across the country. In 2023, 19 counties in 11 states had days with "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" air quality - given at least a "code purple" alert on the US Environmental Protection Agency's Air Quality Index.

Canadian officials warned that those at higher risk of experiencing health effects from wildfire smoke include people with lung disease such as asthma, people with heart disease, along with older adults, children, those who are pregnant and people who work outdoors. They also recommended that those who spend time outdoors wear a mask to help reduce exposure to fine particles of smoke.

Thousands forced to evacuate from wildfires in British Columbia

An evacuation order was in place for the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and the Fort Nelson First Nation, according to a joint news release on Saturday. About 2,800 residents from the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality and about 450 residents from the Fort Nelson First Nation were asked to evacuate.

"In moments of uncertainty, unity becomes critical," Mayor Rob Fraser of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality said in the news release, "Please evacuate calmly, our collective strength will be our resilience."

Northern Rockies Regional Municipality information officer Jaylene MacIver told CNN "there has generally been good compliance," though some residents chose to remain in place.

Over 90% of the approximately 450 residents of Fort Nelson First Nation evacuated the area, the emergency operations director Terry Cavaliere told CNN.

As the wildfire continues to burn, residents were warned that some utilities and communications could be impacted. Emergency medical services, groceries and other resources are also scarce since evacuation is the main priority.

Residents in Alberta prepare to evacuate

Evacuation alerts are also in effect for parts of Alberta as wildfire MWF-017 burns about 10 miles southwest of Fort McMurray, according to a statement from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. The alerts were active in Fort McMurray, Saprae Creek Estates, Gregoire Lake Estates, Fort McMurray First Nation #468, Anzac and Rickards Landing Industrial Park.

"Although there is no immediate risk to these communities, the alert ensures residents are prepared to evacuate if conditions change," the statement said.

Light rain showers were expected overnight Sunday with more rain forecast Monday, "which will help lower fire activity," a Sunday update from Alberta Wildfire said. "This will give firefighters a good window to continue making progress on containing the fire," it said.

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"Two night vision helicopters will work overnight to drop water on the fire with their buckets," the update said.

Crews made progress in establishing a fire guard on the northeast side of the fire Sunday, officials said.

Fire restrictions will remain in effect in the area until conditions improve, according to Alberta Wildfire.

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