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Canadian wildfire smoke is making Wisconsin’s air quality worse, but clean air is moving in

Southern, eastern Wisconsin remain under air quality warning until Friday night

Chicago skyline appears through haze from wildfires in the American West.
As the sun sets, the Chicago skyline appears through haze emitted from wildfires in the American West, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Indiana Dunes State Park, in Indiana. Shafkat Anowar/AP Photo

Much of Wisconsin was under an air quality warning Friday morning due to wildfire smoke from western Canada.

Smoke has caused hazy skies throughout the week. Craig Czarnecki, outreach coordinator for the state Department of Natural Resources’ air management program, said a weather front on Thursday pushed that smoke closer to ground level, leading to reduced air quality in Wisconsin.

The western, central and northeastern parts of the state were under an air quality advisory until noon Friday. Far northern Wisconsin was initially under an advisory early Friday, but that warning was canceled by midmorning.

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“Those counties are seeing good air quality again,” Czarnecki said on Friday. “We anticipate the same thing happening for the rest of the state later this afternoon, early evening. It depends on how quickly that smoke blows out of the rest of our area.”

Most of southern and eastern Wisconsin remain under an air quality warning until midnight, reaching from Iowa and Lafayette counties over to Milwaukee and up to Brown and Door counties.

Czarnecki said smoke moved into the state from the northwest to the southeast, and now a mass of good-quality air is moving in the same direction to clear up conditions. Residents can check current air conditions on the DNR’s air quality monitoring website.

Fine particulate matter from smoke is most likely to affect people who work outside and sensitive groups like older people, young children and those with heart disease or respiratory problems.

Ronesha Strozier is environmental health services supervisor for Public Health Madison & Dane County. She said it’s important for people in affected groups to be aware of the change in air quality and to consider altering their plans to reduce their time outside. That might mean skipping their daily jog around the neighborhood or canceling an outdoor cookout.

“I have asthma, so for me, I am going to reduce my time outside,” she said. “That’s how I’m choosing to change my behavior given this alert.”

Strozier said people in affected groups should take note if they are coughing or having shortness of breath and should have their regular medications or inhaler on hand to help.

Clean air moving into the state Friday should return conditions to normal for the weekend. But Czarnecki said Wisconsin may not be in the clear just yet.

“All those fires are still burning and there’s a chance one other weather pattern comes through and blows the smoke in our direction again,” he said.

He said it’s not common to see widespread reduced air quality in Wisconsin, and the state has seen one or two of these events annually in recent years.