Smoke from Manitoba wildfires causing poor air quality across province’s east

Smoky conditions caused by wildfires have prompted Environment Canada to issue another air quality statement for much of eastern and central Manitoba.

The weather agency said in a Thursday air quality statement that forest fires in east-central Manitoba continue to cause poor air quality for communities near and downwind of the fires.

That includes all of eastern Manitoba, except for the northeastern most tip, as well as the Interlake and the city of Winnipeg.

Northeasterly winds will push the smoke southwestward, spreading across much of southeastern Manitoba today, leading to poor air quality over southeastern areas of the province, the weather agency says.

Southerly winds will develop over Thursday night, pushing the smoke back to the north, where poor air quality is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

“There are actually very few wind directions that give us clear air,” said Natalie Hasell, a warning preparedness meteorologist for Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“If we look at what’s going on in southern Manitoba, we have fires in the east, the northeast, fires north, you have fires in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northwest Territories, and in British Columbia as well as Montana… I don’t have any good news for this.”

As of Thursday, there were 151 active fires in the province, including 14 that started in the previous 24 hours. To date, there have been 381 recorded wildfires in Manitoba, while the average for this time of year is 333.

The Manitoba Lung Association says this has been “an unusual year” for air quality concerns.

“My perception is that there’s more days of poor air quality with the alerts,” said Neil Johnston, the director of health initiatives and head of the lung association.

“It’s certainly been the frequency, how close together they are and then also the length of time — they’re starting earlier in the season and going later.”

Dry conditions led to earlier fires

Hasell says fires started earlier than normal this year because of dry conditions.

“Certainly parts of Manitoba have been dealing with smoke on and off, sometimes every day for stretches of time throughout this season and the last as well, since April,” she said.

“A lot of special equality statements have been in effect, and probably some every day for the last while.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Environment Canada’s air quality statement covered the following areas:

  • Arborg – Hecla – Fisher River – Gypsumville – Ashern.
  • Berens River – Little Grand Rapids – Bloodvein – Atikaki.
  • Bissett – Victoria Beach – Nopiming Provincial Park – Pine Falls.
  • City of Winnipeg.
  • Dugald – Beausejour – Grand Beach.
  • Gillam.
  • Grand Rapids – Waterhen.
  • Island Lake – Oxford House – Gods Lake.
  • Norway House – Cross Lake – Wabowden.
  • Poplar River.
  • Selkirk – Gimli – Stonewall – Woodlands.
  • Shamattawa.
  • Sprague – Northwest Angle Provincial Forest.
  • Steinbach – St. Adolphe – Emerson – Vita – Richer.
  • Whiteshell – Lac du Bonnet – Pinawa.

Environment Canada is warning people with health conditions to be aware of the current air conditions, and that even healthy people could experience sore eyes, tears, coughing and a runny nose.

That rings true for Johnston, who drove in to work on Thursday.

“I was actually feeling congested as coughing in the car, and that’s very unusual for me,” he said.

“If it’s affecting me, I can only imagine what other people are going through. This is major and concerning and it’s something that all Manitobans need to be thinking about these days.”

Johnston says one in five Manitobans have a lung condition that could be affected by the poor air quality.

Protecting yourself

When air quality is poor over so much of the province, Johnston recommends avoiding the outdoors as much as possible.

“We need to go indoors and make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep our indoor air as clean as we can,” he said.

That means closing windows, checking air conditioning filters to ensure they’re clean, and trying to use air filtration systems that have HEPA filtration.

Those with lung conditions should consider using small particulate masks that are individually fitted, like N95 masks.

People should also avoid exercising outside during the air quality statement.