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Erik Burgess, Published July 02 2013

Smoke drifting here from Canadian forest fires ‘perfectly normal’

FARGO – While fatal forest fires ravage parts of the western United States, other fires farther north of us are having a much less dramatic effect on the Fargo-Moorhead metro.

Fires in far northern Canada are creating a hazy sky for us here.

It’s an “almost annual” event in Fargo, says WDAY TV chief meteorologist John Wheeler.

“It is perfectly normal,” he said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh no, Canada’s on fire!’ ”

Summer storms often bring lightning into the dry prairie and tundra of upper Canada, which can strike vegetation and causes fires.

About once a summer, fires burn in northern Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the southern parts of the Northwest Territories, Wheeler said.

On Tuesday, fires were burning in the far northern reaches of Manitoba, and above-normal temperatures this year are fueling the flames even more, Wheeler said.

Smoke and particulates from the fires enter the upper atmosphere, and when the wind that high up is just right, it can blow into our neck of the woods, causing hazy conditions.

Unlike the Arizona forest fires that killed 19 firefighters earlier this week, the Canadian fires burn in areas that are sparsely populated, Wheeler said.

“There aren’t a lot of major cities up there,” he said.

The particulates are high in the upper atmosphere, which means we can’t smell the smoke and it’s not very dense, Wheeler said.

The lowest part of the haze on Tuesday was about 8,500 feet up, and some of it could’ve been as high as 10,000 feet, Wheeler said.

The haze covered about two-thirds of eastern North Dakota and about half of Minnesota on Tuesday afternoon, said Bill Barrett, a meteorologist technician for the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.

He said with breezier weather and perhaps some rain this weekend, the haze should begin to dissipate.

“By Independence Day, there’ll be enough smoke from fireworks,” he said.

The Fourth of July should stay dry, especially in the southern Red River Valley, Barrett said. Temperatures will be in the mid-to-upper 80s.

Scattered thunderstorms could come into the area by Friday night and into Saturday, Barrett said, and temperatures will stay in the mid-80s.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518