It’s been almost two weeks since a monster fire took a nasty turn in Fort McMurray Alberta, and the air quality is so bad that it will likely delay the return of residents.
At a press conference on Monday, Alberta premier Rachel Notley said that on a scale of one to 10 that the province usually uses to measure the quality of air — 10 being the worst — Fort Mac read 38 that morning.
The index measures contaminants, smoke, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide.
“It is clear that this is something that could potentially delay recovery work and a return to the community,” Notley said at a news conference.
The reading means that officials are limiting the working hours of their staff in the city, and making use of proper face masks.
According to the province’s Air Quality Health Index, only Fort McMurray registers above 10, and it is expected that the air quality will remain that high for the next few days.
The Environment ministry is recommending that residents in the area avoid physical activities outdoors, especially children and the elderly.
The fires are also affecting other communities nearby. In nearby Fort McKay — just north of Fort McMurray where evacuees displaced by the fire have felt shelter, but which is itself facing a voluntary evacuation order — the air quality index currently sits at seven. The forecast, however, expects that the smoke will push that metric past 10 in that community as well. There is a similar forecast for Anzac, which is just south of the fires.
By comparison, Calgary and Edmonton — Alberta’s two largest cities — have scores of three and five, respectively.
The Fort McMurray wildfire, which forced more than 80,000 people to flee and fan out across the province, is now about 285,000 hectares and only 10 to 12 kilometers from the border of Saskatchewan. All told, there are 15 fires burning across the province, including one northwest of Edmonton near Fox Creek and a gas plant that forced another evacuation. Almost 2,000 firefighters are out battling all the blazes, with 161 helicopters, 29 air tankers and 377 pieces of heavy equipment.
Notley noted that the “fire conditions are really as bad now as they were on the first day of the fire and we expect a lot of fire activity today.”