Taking a look at Canadian Wildfire Season & how it could impact Metro Detroit this summer

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Posted at 5:53 AM, Jun 11, 2024

CANADA (WXYZ) — The 2023 Canadian wildfire season was a record-breaker. It brought poor air quality and breathing challenges to millions of Americans, and now the 2024 wildfire season is well underway.

Today we're taking a look at the summer fire forecast, it's potential impacts on Metro Detroit, and what we can do to prepare.

"What do you remember about that Canadian wildfire season last year?" I asked Southfield resident Ahkeim Windmon.

"I remember it was pretty widespread, and it was very devastating to the environment," Windmon responded.

With last year's wildfires came smoke painting the sky orange, haze obscuring skylines. and dimming of the sun.

"With that kind of quality, it kind of burnt my throat a little bit," said Rhonda Woodard, who remembers the local impacts of the Canadian wildfires.

"There were days that we couldn't walk outside," said Rachel Taylor, who felt the impact of last year's wildfires. "We walked inside here instead. You could see it if you can see it. I don't want to breathe it."

But millions of Americans may be unable to avoid these wildfires this year.

"What are you hearing about the wildfire season in Canada?" I asked Ann Jeffers, who is an associate professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan.

"I am hearing that this year's going to be," Jeffers responded. "A particularly, severe one. It's in line with the conditions that we saw last year."

Unseasonably warm weather and a lingering drought, have Canadian forests burning again. Conditions are said to be the result of climate change and larger weather patterns like La Nina.

"What that does is it reduces the amount of moisture content in the forests," Jeffers said of the conditions around the wildfires. "And so they, they burn more easily."

Jeffers studies the impact of fire on communities, and says millions of Americans, even those who live far from wildfires, will have to learn to live with their impacts.

"They're becoming more severe, more common," Jeffers said. "And I think it is a hazard that we're just going to have to live with."

According to the Canadian InterAgency Forest Fire Center more than a million acres are on fire. The forecast from Natural Resources Canada calls for an increasing risk of extreme severity from June through August and September. And it's already being felt in the Great Lakes.

"I've already experienced it," Taylor told us. "Because I was in Minnesota where those fires were already coming through, and I could see it there."

Professor Jeffers says there are some steps we can take to protect ourselves, like closing windows and keep outside doors shut when the air quality is poor, wearing N95 masks on air quality alert days, and limiting time outside.

"Adjust the air intake on your Hvac system so that it's not taking air from outside but recirculating it from inside the home," Jeffers suggested. "Like, that's a very simple step, that someone can take."

If you use a window AC, make sure you have tight seals between the unit and the window. But most importantly, take air quality warnings seriously. They’re not just for those with underlying health conditions; they're for millions of Americans who will live their lives under a thick blanket of microscopic particles of smoke.

"(It's) very foggy when you walked outside and everywhere you went," Windmon said. "It was kind of strange. It's very odd."

The Canadian wildfire season is from May and snow melt to September or October when temperatures fall, and precipitation picks up. This means we’re heading into the heart of the wildfire season, so this is an issue will have to watch into the fall.