Air quality is improving in southern Ontario and Quebec but smoky skies still linger elsewhere in the nation, Environment Canada says.
Much of Canada has seen poor air quality this week due to wildfires burning in parts of the nation. That quality is starting to improve in southern Ontario and Quebec, an official with the federal agency told reporters Friday afternoon.
The two provinces are expected to get scattered showers and potentially thunderstorms Friday to Sunday, but air quality in parts of northern Ontario and western Quebec remain poor, the official said.
“Unfortunately, this improvement may be temporary because wildfire season continues,” they added.
Wildfire smoke that hung over Toronto for several days has now cleared, resulting in a notable improvement in air quality for Canada’s most populous city.
Environment Canada, which issued special air quality statements for Toronto multiple days this week, had no alerts in place for the city Friday.
In Alberta, the worst air quality is near Fort Chipewyan, which remains on an evacuation order as a nearby fire burns out of control. Wood Buffalo and Grande Prairie also have high-risk air quality forecasts.
Moderately bad air quality is forecast for Edmonton and Calgary Friday.
In British Columbia, air quality is expected to improve almost everywhere in the province except for Fort St. John.
The number of fires burning across the country fell slightly Thursday, but forecasts suggest smoke warnings will remain in parts of several provinces into the weekend.
Environment Canada has warned that people with lung or heart diseases, older adults, children, pregnant people and those who work outdoors are at a higher risk of experiencing health effects from the smoke.
However, the agency notes that wildfire smoke can be harmful to everyone’s health “even at low concentrations.”
Multiple health studies have linked wildfire smoke to serious health consequences including heart attacks, strokes and breathing problems.
The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre said there were 431 fires burning on Thursday in nine provinces and two territories. That was down from 441 Wednesday, with Quebec extinguishing 10 fires since Wednesday morning.
The week’s events prompted two debates in the House of Commons related to climate change and fires.
The Bloc and NDP accused the Liberals of claiming to be acting on climate while still subsidizing and approving the expansion of fossil-fuel projects. The Liberals blamed the Conservatives for pushing back on climate policies such as carbon pricing without offering alternatives.
More than 43,000 square kilometres have burned in Canada so far this year, making 2023 the second-worst year for fires on record. That’s before the hottest months of the year have even begun.
In 2014, more than 46,000 square kilometres burned, the most ever in a single year. At the current pace, that total is expected to be passed this weekend.
— with files from The Canadian Press