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Worst Wildfire Season in Recorded Canadian History

Canada is experiencing its worst wildfire season on record and the smoke is spreading. 

Smoke from the wildfires originally spread to neighboring New York a few weeks ago but has since reached other more central states such as Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois. On Monday, the smoke made its way across the Atlantic, reaching Western Europe. 

Despite usually averaging about two or three air quality alerts per season, the Minnesota Pollution Agency issued the 23rd on Monday. St. Paul, the second most populous in the state, recorded the worst air quality in the United States two weeks ago because of the smoke coming from the Canadian wildfires. 

Air quality index numbers have registered levels between the range of 200 and 500, which is considered “very unhealthy”. As global temperatures increase, wildfires like these are becoming increasingly common. 

“We recommend children, teens, seniors, people with heart or lung disease, and individuals who are pregnant avoid strenuous activities and limit their time outdoors,” Brandon Johnson, the mayor of Chicago, said in a release. “As these unsafe conditions continue, the city will continue to provide updates and take swift action to ensure that vulnerable individuals have the resources they need to protect themselves and their families.”

There are currently 490 active wildfires happening across Canada and at least 255 are considered to be “out of control”. According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, at least 19,027,114 acres have been charred already this year, surpassing the previous 1989 record of 18,254,317 acres. Canada’s wildfire season usually hits its peak around mid-July. 

Almost a quarter of the fires burning are in the province of Quebec. Though there has been recent rainfall in the province, it will not be enough to quell the raging wildfires. The fires from Quebec combined with the low pressure from the Great Lakes region is making the smoke spread throughout the midwest. 

According to Copernicus, the European Union's Earth observation program, about 160 megatons of carbon emissions have been released from the smoke in Canada. 

"Our monitoring of the scale and persistence of the wildfire emissions across Canada since early May has shown how unusual it has been when compared to the two decades of our dataset," Copernicus senior scientist Mark Parrington said in a statement. "...It is a clear reflection of the intensity of the fires that such high values of aerosol optical depth and other pollutants associated with the plume are so high as it reaches this side of the Atlantic."

Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, has described the events of this wildfire season as “unprecedented”. All national resources have been committed to fighting the fires and training others to help assist across the country. American firefighters were also sent earlier this month to help put out the wildfires. 

"We've deployed more than 600 U.S. firefighters, support personnel, and equipment to support Canada as they respond to record wildfires – events that are intensifying because of the climate crisis," United States President Joe Biden said in a tweet.

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