A fire boss aircraft in the air over Yellowknife in July 2023. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
If you’re reading this in Yellowknife on Tuesday, go home and crank open the windows. The smoke is forecast to disappear, for the time being at least.
After suffering the worst possible air quality – 10-plus on the Air Quality Health Index, as bad as it gets – for 13 of the past 14 days, the wind is shifting and Yellowknifers should be given a literal breather.
According to Environment Canada’s 72-hour smoke forecast, winds from the east should push most smoke away from the city from Tuesday afternoon until at least Thursday.
The forecast is for the AQHI to drop to four out of 10 on Tuesday evening – the lower the number, the better the air – and two out of 10 throughout Wednesday.
A scientific test carried out shortly before 1pm on Tuesday, in which a reporter leaned out of the newsroom front door and breathed deeply, suggests the forecast is accurate.
The stretch of almost two weeks’ grimy air has gone on longer than the worst week Yellowknifers endured in 2014, the territory’s biggest wildfire season this century to date, and is among the worst streaks of poor air the city has ever experienced.
The forecast is subject to change, not least because wildfire behaviour is not always predictable and new fires can rapidly alter the situation.
However, the same forecast that will temporarily clean up Yellowknife’s air is also likely to keep smoke over much of the South Slave, Dehcho and Sahtu.
A column of poor air can be expected over the Sahtu, in particular, on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, winds from the east could also tax firefighters attempting to keep fire ZF015 away from Behchokǫ̀.
The fire, which has grown to more than 60,000 hectares burned, was around 25 km east of the community as of Monday.
Fire crews, anticipating this, have been working to create fire breaks in the hope that the fire can be stopped well before reaching Behchokǫ̀.