Wildfire smoke puts millions of Canadians at health risk as air quality drops

Digital WritersThe Weather Network
Digital Writers

Severe wildfire activity is causing smoke plumes to push thousands of kilometres south, bringing poor air quality and hazy skies to much of Ontario and Quebec

Visit The Weather Network's wildfire hub to keep up with the latest on the active start to wildfire season across Canada.

As a result of rampant wildfires in northern Ontario and Quebec, significant wildfire smoke is impacting many communities in southern areas of Central Canada. It reached into many parts of the U.S., extending as far south as the Tennessee Valley.

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As of Tuesday evening, there are around 150 wildfires burning in Quebec, and there have been more than 800 fires this year so far for the province – surpassing the 10-year average of 199 blazes in the province by the beginning of June.

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Smoke took over satellite imagery across central and southern Ontario and Quebec on Monday, with air quality quickly deteriorating across the region. Widespread special air quality statements are in effect for both provinces and poor air quality may persist through most of this week. People are being urged to keep their doors and windows closed and to reduce time spent outdoors.

"Wildfire smoke can be harmful to everyone’s health even at low concentrations. Continue to take actions to protect your health and reduce exposure to smoke," says Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) in the statement.

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Conditions expected to further deteriorate through Thursday

With surface smoke travelling south, poor air quality has become a major concern for major cities like Ottawa and Montreal, with even residents in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) possibly feeling the impacts. These regions are likely to continue to record some of the worst air quality they've experienced in recent times.


Smoke-modelling forecasts are indicating that Wednesday could feature another high concentration blast of smoke to the region, where eastern sections of the GTA, and all of eastern Ontario, as well as parts of southern Quebec, could experience even worse air quality and high levels of low-level smoke.

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On Wednesday, the air quality health index (AQHI) for southern and eastern Ontario will sit between 5-7 (moderate to high risk).


As well, Thursday morning is projected to be the worst timeframe for air quality in the GTA. N95 masks will be a helpful tool to protect yourself from inhaling smoke in the coming days.

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The sunrise may become totally obstructed for some if low-level smoke concentrations continue to increase.

Late Wednesday and into Thursday, forecasters will be watching for a slight wind shift, with winds out of the northeast.

This could provide some relief to residents in eastern regions of the province, but would mean smoke will then target other sections of southern Ontario like Georgian Bay, Lake Huron and more of the GTA.

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Upper-level smoke will be able to travel hundreds of kilometres southward through this week, leading to hazy skies and enhanced sunsets in parts of the United States.

WATCH: Extreme fire risk and poor air quality blanket Ontario

Thumbnail image courtesy of Tessa, taken in Ottawa, Ont.

For more forecast information and updates for Ontario and Quebec, keep checking back to The Weather Network.