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Wildfire smoke expected to linger for several days

The haze created by smoke from wildfires north of the border has made an unwelcome return to the Minot area and the stage at large this summer, and is expected to remain for several days.

Megan Jones, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, said the atmospheric conditions are very similar to those which blanketed the state last year in May.

“The upper air pattern is just oriented just the right way so it’s going to be bringing that smoke down into North Dakota. It can be kind of hard sometimes to tell how much is going to stay aloft versus how much is going to come down to the surface. But in the next couple days, especially up in the Minot area, it does look like those hazy skies aloft are at least going to persist. We would not be surprised if you saw that near surface smoke continuing on and off for the next couple of days,” Jones said.

There are currently 63 active wildfires in northern Alberta, 43 active in Saskatchewan and additional fires smoldering throughout British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. The harshest air conditions centered on a 32,000-acre blaze located in the Fort McMurray Forest Area in Alberta.

The Fort McMurray wildfire is the largest in the complex, according to a statement from the Province of Alberta, and at this time is the only conflagration categorized as being out of control. The province information said 95 firefighters and more than 100 support staff were on the ground and in the air working to contain the fires in the complex, which were determined to have been started by lightning strikes.

Jones said the smoke will hopefully not affect visibility too much in the coming days, but said it wouldn’t be surprising for people to notice the smell of the smoke during that period. Air quality in Minot is currently in the moderate range of 51-100, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. However, a swath of smoke presently covering Regina, Saskatchewan, categorized as unhealthy for sensitive groups is creeping over the border into North Dakota’s northwest corner.

The NWS didn’t have smoke modeling too far into the future, but Jones said the wildfire smoke could continue through the summer unless there’s significant improvements in curtailing the fires at their source.

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