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Wildfires in the West and Canada sending smoky haze over North Dakota

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Wildfires in Canada and the Western U.S. are leading to a smoky haze over North Dakota, and state officials are urging people with respiratory conditions to take precautions.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Alex Edwards told Prairie Public that smoky air particles from wildfires in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have permeated the area via the jet stream. The haze is thick enough in eastern North Dakota to reduce visibility to around 5 miles in the Red River Valley, he said. Haze also is noticeable in Bismarck-Mandan.

The Associated Press reported that there are more than 60 active large blazes burning in Western states and Alaska. Smoke from wildfires in Wyoming and Montana are contributing to the haze in North Dakota, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality. 

The extremely small particles of ash and soot in the air can irritate the respiratory system, especially for those who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- better known as COPD -- or conditions such as asthma and allergies, the agency said in a statement. It advised people with respiratory conditions, the elderly and young children to consider limiting activities outdoors.

The smoke is lingering close to the ground, weather experts told AP.

“Sometimes it stays aloft, but in this particular case behind the (weather) front, the smoke is finding its way closer to the surface. That’s why we are able to smell it and it’s affecting the air quality,” National Weather Service meteorologist Carl Jones said.

The smoke impact in North Dakota appears to be concentrated in the east, but Environmental Quality's Division of Air Quality is monitoring its air sampling network statewide.

Higher temperatures in coming days could worsen the problem, according to the state and Edwards.

"There's a strong chance of a high pressure system developing next week, which promotes dry, hot air and near record-breaking temperatures for the Northern Plains here," Edwards told Prairie Public. "And what that will do is just promote more of those conditions for wildfires as we approach the end of the month here. No real end in sight for the moment."

For information on air quality and tips on respiratory protection, go to https://www.airnow.gov/fires/.

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