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Rain may soon help put out flames in Canada's worst recorded wildfire season

A burnt landscape caused by wildfires is pictured near Entrance, Wild Hay area, Alberta, Canada on May 10.
Megan Albu
AFP via Getty Images
A burnt landscape caused by wildfires is pictured near Entrance, Wild Hay area, Alberta, Canada on May 10.

Rain in the forecast could soon offer some respite for those in eastern Canada dealing with wildfires by helping firefighters quench the flames and clearing some of the particles that are making the air smoky and hazardous.

The question for Gerald Cheng, the warning preparedness meteorologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada, is whether the rain will be enough. In a media availability on Saturday morning, he said rainfall is expected in southwest Quebec on Sunday night, whereas fires further north in Quebec aren't set to see rain until Tuesday.

It'll be about 10 to 20 millimeters — less than an inch — of water. The impact it will have on the fires will depend on the size of the blaze, which could grow before the rain.

However, with the rain comes the possibility of lightning sparking more fires.

A return to poorer air quality is always a possibility, Cheng said. The thick orange haze that dominated New York City on Wednesday is caused by a high concentration of fine particles. The key factors for the intensity of these toxic particulates are the severity of the wildfire producing them and wind, which can help disperse them.

Smoke is still moving south into the United States, he said, and winds will drive smoke into northeast Ontario on Monday.

On Friday night, the Alberta Emergency Alert system instructed some residents of Yellowhead County and the town of Edson to evacuate, describing the fires as "becoming increasingly unpredictable."

Rain is also forecast for Alberta on Sunday.

As of Saturday afternoon, the government of Alberta reported 75 active wildfires in the province. Quebec's government says it has 133 active forest fires, 72 of which are considered out of control.

Canada's fire season extends from May through October, but these fires are abnormally prolific for this time of year.The country is on track to have its worst wildfire season on record, according to the U.S.National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service. Quebec has reported 446 fires this year. Over the last 10 years, the average number of fires for this same date is 212.

"The images that we have seen so far this season are some of the most severe we have ever witnessed in Canada," Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said in a press conference earlier in June. "The current forecast for the next few months indicates the potential for continued higher-than-normal fire activity."

Firefighters from the U.S., France, Spain and Portugal have agreed to join the effort to control Canada's wildfires.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Halisia Hubbard