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Canadian wildfires send dangerous smoke to Minnesota

Canada's record wildfire season will persist and experts predict it will impact our air quality in Minnesota for the entire summer.

ST PAUL, Minn. — From the Midwest to the East Coast, Canadian wildfire smoke is making air quality in the U.S. some of the worst in the world.

In fact, about 73 million people have been under air quality alerts in recent days, including parts of Minnesota.

Although that alert expired Tuesday, Canada's wildfire season will be a problem all summer and will likely pump that bad air right back in.

Warmer and drier conditions are making the fires bigger and bringing with them more smoke, according to Travis Verdegan, whose job it is to predict fires in Minnesota. 

"Our fires are just not of the same magnitude and that's really where the big difference lies," said Verdegan, who works in the DNR's Division of Forestry. "We're more likely to be impacted by smoke coming from another location."

Smoke can travel thousands of miles and scientists who study it say that it can impact an area 50 times larger than what actually burned. 

"Even us in the Midwest, where we may not have active fires burning in our vicinity, you have to worry about the downstream effects of this type of air pollution," said Dr. Vijay Limaye, a climate and health scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

He says that wildfire smoke is particularly dangerous due to particulate matter that's microscopic and can be linked to asthma, heart disease and even stroke. 

"They can actually penetrate deep into our lungs, into our bloodstream, and travel to multiple organ systems," said Dr. Limaye. 

The rest of Canada's season may look dire, but fighting a fire that's threatening people, or letting a far-away fire burn freely to focus on a forest's health, could factor into how much smoke we see in the future. 

"They're doing what they can with what they've got and prioritizing with whatever safety concern is the highest there," said Verdegan. 

If you can, experts recommend reducing outdoor physical activities, taking more breaks and keeping your windows closed. If you have asthma, also keep your inhaler nearby. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has an air quality index that gives current conditions for your area that you can find here.


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