Where there’s fire, there’s smoke Blazes out west to worsen air quality here

Smoke from forest fires in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan is expected to blanket Winnipeg this week.

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Smoke from forest fires in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan is expected to blanket Winnipeg this week.

Capital city residents are being warned to take measures to reduce their exposure to the smoke in the coming days.

Terri Lang, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said smoke from the early summer season blazes in the northern parts of the two western provinces is rising high into the atmosphere before descending in southern areas of Saskatchewan and Manitoba because of a high-pressure area.

Heavy smoke from northern Alberta forest fires comes south to blanket the Bow River area in downtown Calgary, Tuesday May 16, 2023. (Larry MacDougal / The Canadian Press)

“We just don’t know how much smoke will make it down to the surface,” Lang said Tuesday.

“If we get a bit of a shower overnight in Winnipeg, don’t let that fool you. The smoke will be back. And it looks like it will be a hot dry summer.”

Smoke is expected to be particularly bad in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

Lang said the government department will issue an air-quality health index for the city if the smoke levels get too high, but those are only issued once the smoky conditions are known.

A second special air-quality statement in as many days was issued Tuesday for a large swath of southern Manitoba.

In the morning, it extended from the Saskatchewan border to the west, to the Red River on the east to just south of Winnipeg, and from the U.S. border north to Russell and the south end of Lake Manitoba.

By mid-afternoon, the area it covered had grown as far north as Flin Flon and Cranberry Portage and to the east to cover the lower basin of Lake Winnipeg and the west coast of the lake.

“This is early in the season for smoke. It has been a dry spring and then hot across Western Canada,” Lang said. “The smoke will be around until something puts out the fires. We need rain to knock it down but, unfortunately, we’re not seeing any wet weather systems coming.”

Jalena Bennett, a weather expert with the University of British Columbia’s weather forecast research team, and a spokeswoman for BlueSky Canada (which produces smoke forecasts at firesmoke.ca), said their tracking shows the smoke which will hit Winnipeg on Wednesday is coming directly from forest fires in northwestern Saskatchewan.

“It is perfectly aligned for Winnipeg,” Bennett said. “The winds will point it from Saskatchewan to Winnipeg.”

Active wildfires burning within the Forest Protection Area of Alberta are shown in a May 12 photo. (Handout / Twitter / The Canadian Press files)

Neil Johnston, president and chief executive officer of the Manitoba Lung Association, said people should take preventative measures when smoke gets bad outside.

“The smoke is hard to ignore,” he said. “People need to be aware and be prepared. Winnipeg is not being affected as much right now — the smoke hasn’t come down yet — so now is the time to take some steps and have a plan.”

People should close their windows to keep the smoke out and set air conditioners to only recirculate air inside the home, Johnston said. Furnace filters should be upgraded to higher-rated ones and HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) cleaners could be placed in individual rooms, he said.

Johnston said people who have lung disease, asthma or other health issues should follow the management plan they have already set up with their health-care provider.

“With smoke, it is the smallest particulates you can’t even see which can cause the most damage to people,” he said. “They can penetrate deep into the lungs and can go into the circulation system and affect other organ systems.”

One more piece of advice to help get away from the smoke for a few hours: “Usually, commercial buildings have better air systems than in homes. Think about going to the mall, a community centre or a library.”


Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.


Updated on Tuesday, May 16, 2023 4:35 PM CDT: Revised copy

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