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Wisconsin and Minnesota under air quality warnings as smoke from Canadian wildfires spreads

Regions of Minnesota and Wisconsin are under air quality warnings as smoke pours in from devastating Canadian wildfires.

Thick smoke is rolling into the Great Lakes region as more than 100 wildfires rage in British Columbia on Monday. The largest fire, the Parker Lake wildfire, has now forced more than 3,000 people to evacuate as flames threaten the small town of Fort Nelson.

Now gusty winds have blown smoke into southern Minnesota and much of central Wisconsin, putting thousands of people under air quality warnings.

Smoke from wildfires hangs over the Minneapolis skyline on Monday, May 13, 2024 (AP)Smoke from wildfires hangs over the Minneapolis skyline on Monday, May 13, 2024 (AP)

Smoke from wildfires hangs over the Minneapolis skyline on Monday, May 13, 2024 (AP)

The southern half of Minnesota falls into a red category for the air quality index, according to the state’s pollution control agency. The alert means the air is unhealthy for all residents, not just those with underlying health conditions. People with asthma and heart disease are among the most vulnerable, as are children and the elderly.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin residents face an air quality advisory for sensitive groups, state officials said.

Residents of affected areas should avoid being outdoors for extended periods of time, officials in both states said.

Smoke fills the air in Albert, Canada as the Parker Lake wildfire rages in British Columbia (Alberta Wildfire Service/AFP via)Smoke fills the air in Albert, Canada as the Parker Lake wildfire rages in British Columbia (Alberta Wildfire Service/AFP via)

Smoke fills the air in Albert, Canada as the Parker Lake wildfire rages in British Columbia (Alberta Wildfire Service/AFP via)

The Parker Lake wildfire started May 10 due to “strong winds,” officials said. More than 5,000 hectares have been burned since Monday.

A cold front on Sunday evening brought another round of strong winds, causing the flames at Fort Nelson to spread quickly. The wind is expected to continue throughout Monday. Cliff Chapman, the agency’s director of operations, warned that remaining residents should leave immediately.

An aerial view of the Parker Lake wildfire burning near Fort Nelson in British Columbia.  Strong winds fueled the fire from Sunday evening into Monday, officials said (BC Wildfire Service/AFP via Gett)An aerial view of the Parker Lake wildfire burning near Fort Nelson in British Columbia.  Strong winds fueled the fire from Sunday evening into Monday, officials said (BC Wildfire Service/AFP via Gett)

An aerial view of the Parker Lake wildfire burning near Fort Nelson in British Columbia. Strong winds fueled the fire from Sunday evening into Monday, officials said (BC Wildfire Service/AFP via Gett)

“If you are still at Fort Nelson or anywhere under evacuation order due to the Parker Lake wildfire, I encourage you to leave,” Champan said in a video Sunday evening. “The fuels are as dry as we’ve ever seen. The winds will continue and push the fire towards the community.”

“Escape routes may be compromised and visibility will be poor as the fire continues to grow,” he continued.

Ben Boghean, a fire behavior specialist, said on Sunday that years of drought have also made the region susceptible to wildfires this year.

The fire is expected to spread south and southwest toward the U.S., but winds are expected to decrease Tuesday, slowing its spread, Boghean said.