Smoke from unprecedented Canadian wildfires casts haze over western U.S.

By Adriana Navarro,

Hazy skies continue to shroud parts of the western United States and Canada in late May amid an early start to the wildfire season.

While the height of the wildfire season across North America has yet to begin, the blazes in Canada had an explosive start, already well ahead of historical averages.


The fires in Canada had scorched over 1.6 million hectares by Sunday. By the same time last year, wildfires had burned "only" some 8,400 hectares, according to data from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center. The center lists 136,863 hectares as the 10-year average area burned across Canada.

The majority of the area burned is located in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, three provinces that border the United States. Alberta has recorded the largest area burned at over 950,000 hectares. Some 406 fires -- active and doused -- have scorched Alberta in 2023 as of Sunday, according to CIFFC. By the same date last year, only 236 fires had flared up.

"In fact, [this is] the second-worst season already for Alberta on record, and we're only in the month of May," AccuWeather lead long-range forecaster Paul Pastelok told AccuWeather senior on-air meteorologist Kristina Shalhoup. "So it's going to be a really rough year."

Smoke from wildfires can cause poor air quality and reduce visibility. Air quality conditions in several Alberta cities were ranked as "very high risk" on Monday, the highest ranking in Canada's Air Quality Health Index.

A glance at the air quality in Canada and the United States as of Monday. Smoke from the wildfires in Canada has impacted air quality across British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan along with a few western U.S. states.

Smoke from the raging wildfires in Alberta, Canada, drifted southward into a few of the Western states, including Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and the Dakotas. The smoke has also been creating hazy skies in the eastern United States during May, affecting the appearance of sunrises and sunsets.


The incoming smoke prompted the states of Colorado and Montana to issue air quality alerts over the weekend. Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment issued alerts and advisories Saturday afternoon through Sunday for the eastern portion of the state, including Denver, warning the air quality may be unhealthy for that span of time.

Photos from the weekend showed skies choked with smoke, creating visibility issues. The air quality index along parts of the Front Range reached 168 on Saturday due to particle pollution, according to the department, indicating unhealthy conditions that can affect vulnerable groups as well as members of the general public.

Residents of areas impacted by wildfire smoke can check their air quality forecast by visiting AccuWeather's Air Quality Index or via the AccuWeather app.

"We do feel that the worst of the fires this year coming up [in the U.S.] could be across the interior Northwest into the northern Rockies, extending down from the western Canadian fires," Pastelok said.

The interior Southwest will be another area of concern, but rain throughout the month of May has held back the fire season in the region, according to Pastelok. He adds that he expects it to get drier come June and July.


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