Mother Nature may offer a brief reprieve to smoky conditions in some areas out west this week, but likely won’t offer too much help in fighting wildfires in eastern Canada.
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In a briefing Monday morning, Environment Canada meteorologist Gerald Cheng told reporters that while some rain would be seen in parts of Ontario and Quebec, it may not be “significant” enough to assist in fighting the biggest flames.
“I sigh because I don’t really have a lot of good news,” he said. “We don’t see lots of rain for places that have the most active fires, especially in Quebec. And, on top of that, only showers in the forecast (are) with thunderstorms, lightning especially later in the week.”
He cautioned that with the risk of thunderstorms comes the possibility of lightning that could trigger new fires. Cheng said northwestern Ontario would see no rain until the weekend.
According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centrethere were 449 active fires across the country as of Sunday evening, with 220 of them considered out of control.
Wildfire still burning near Tumbler Ridge
The fires have prompted more than 100,000 people to be evacuated in nine provinces, with officials warning that the warm, dry conditions driving the fires are expected to continue through the summer.
Cheng added that much of western Canada is “completely covered by the smoke,” and when asked which way the wind was blowing, he said smoke is also pushing into Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“I hasten to add that weather does not respect international boundaries or provincial boundaries,” Cheng said. “It may not be this week, but we have to look into the future that it can be a possibility that smoke can push to the United States or vice versa.”
In recent weeks, several cities in the northeastern U.S. have seen smoggy conditions due to the wildfire smoke with many communities being given an “unhealthy” air quality rating, according to U.S. agency AirNow last week.
Photos from New York City and elsewhere showed conditions that some on social media called apocalyptic. Meanwhile, the New York Post used the term “eh!-pocalypse” on its front page as it blamed Canada’s wildfires for poor air conditions.
This week, cities like Edmonton and Saskatoon are both in a high-risk situation for poor air quality, while Calgary, Regina and Toronto sit at a moderate risk. Cities like Ottawa, which earned a “very high risk” warning of 10+ on the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) just last week, have drastically decreased to low risk, or a three on the AQHI.
Air quality alerts issued for tens of millions in northeastern U.S.
According to Environment Canadaan AQHI value of 10+ is usually due to very high levels of fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5. The value is the highest risk category and can’t go any higher even though air pollution and health risks may increase. Environment Canada says a 10+ value means “everyone’s health is at risk” and recommends taking precautions and following the advice of health officials.
Asked about the impact on air quality, Cheng said it was improving — but he cautioned against making any long-term predictions.
“The fires are not going away and that depends on the status of the fires, because as long as the fires still exist, they will still create smoke. Then we have to monitor where the smoke goes,” he cautioned.
Cheng added that the risk for smoke in Alberta is “really high” because the winds are “really transporting” it throughout the province. He advised there could be relief later in the week however it may only be “temporary” depending on wind flow.
Quebec wildfires: More rain needed to push back against fires
While air quality levels appear to be getting better, he warned the source of the poor air quality “has to completely go away” for it to be resolved, meaning the fires have to be extinguished for the risk of poor air quality to be reduced.
Hundreds of firefighters have been brought in to tackle the worst fires, not only from other parts of the country but hundreds from around the world as well. Nearly 350 from the European Union are set to hit the ground in Quebec this week.
— with files from The Canadian Press
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