Wildfires continue to burn in Manitoba, air quality statement issued in southeastern areas

Smoke from a wildfire in the Bloodvein First Nation in Manitoba on July 28, 2021. (Source: Frank Young Sr./ Facebook)

As military and fire crews continue to battle wildfires burning across the province, smoke is being pushed across the province prompting Environment Canada to issue air quality statements.

As of Thursday, the Manitoba Wildfire Service said 150 fires are burning in the province, the largest of them burning near the Bloodvein First Nation.

The province said the fire started in June and has been burning for 31 days, growing to 234,500 hectares as of Thursday.

Another fire south of this one is currently burning out of control and is believed to be 78,735 hectares in size.

"We're seeing smoke from those fires that are east of Lake Winnipeg bringing smoke to Southern Manitoba," said Don Hallet, assistant director for the Manitoba Wildfire Service. "Plus, we're seeing smoke coming out of Northwestern Ontario, depending on which way the wind is shifting."

Hallet says this is one of the worst wildfire seasons he's experienced in the last twenty years, comparable to the summer of 1989, the worst on record.

Dry conditions are making it more difficult to fight the blazes

"What we're finding is these fires are burning very intense; therefore they're burning deeper into the ground," Hallet said. "So it takes a lot of energy for our firefighters to get that fire out as they progress along the fire line." 

The Canadian Armed Forces said more than 100 soldiers have been deployed across the province to help with the fires.

"The clean-up work of these soldiers frees up the firefighters to battle the larger fires that are immediately threatening lives and livelihoods," a spokesperson for the military said in a statement.

The fires have wafted smoke across southern and eastern parts of the province – prompting Environment Canada to warn people to take precautions.

Air quality statements were issued Thursday for the majority of central and eastern Manitoba, including the City of Winnipeg.

"Northeasterly winds will push this smoke southwestward, spreading across much of southeastern Manitoba today, leading to poor air quality over southeastern areas of the province," the Environment Canada statement reads.

It said people living in the affected areas need to be aware of potential health concerns the smoke in the air is causing.

Manitobans are encouraged to limit their outdoor and strenuous physical activities, stay indoors or move to areas with cleaner air, turn off furnaces and air-conditioning units that pull smoke in from outdoors, and avoid smoking or burning materials indoors.

"If your job is to be outdoors, discuss with this your boss," said Natalie Hassell, Environment Canada warning preparedness meteorologist, "Find a way to get out of the heat or get out of the smoke."

Hassell added Manitobans should check the Environment Canada air quality index, even when it looks clear outside.

"There are times when there's haze in the air," she said, "But the air quality isn't actually that bad."

Hassell then said there are other times when it seems clear outside, "but the concentrations are actually a lot higher."

The City of Winnipeg is echoing the same concerns.

"This smoke, these particles, can affect our health and can have impacts on our respiratory system," said Jason Shaw, the City of Winnipeg's assistant chief for emergency preparedness. "It may provide problems for people with breathing difficulties."

Shaw said that Winnipeggers should expect smokier days in the future as the wildfire season continues and everyone should consistently check current air quality levels.  

Environment Canada said southerly winds should push the smoke back to the north Thursday night.

A map of Manitoba's wildfires can be found online.