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The latest on wildfires and wildfire smoke in Canada

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre said there were 431 fires burning on Thursday in nine provinces and two territories. That was down from 441 Wednesday, with Quebec extinguishing 10 fires since Wednesday morning. The number of out-of-control fires also fell from 256 on Wednesday to 234 on Thursday, including a change in status for more than a dozen fires in Quebec.

More than 43,000 square kilometres have burned in Canada so far this year, making 2023 the second-worst year for wildfires on record. That’s before the hottest months of the year have even begun.

In 2014, more than 46,000 square kilometres burned, the most ever in a single year. At the current pace, that total is expected to be passed this weekend.

Follow updates from across the country below.

Air quality improves for Toronto, smoke lingers in northern Ontario, Alberta

Wildfire smoke that hung over Toronto for several days cleared Friday, resulting in a notable improvement in air quality, while communities in northern Ontario and western Quebec saw pollution warnings and hazy skies.

Environment Canada had no air quality statements in place for Toronto on Friday but issued several for parts of northeastern Ontario, including North Bay, Sudbury and Timmins, as well as parts of western Quebec.

“Those places are still under smoke from the forest fires,” said Gerald Cheng, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

More U.S. firefighters on standby as wildfires continue to rage across Canada

“For places in the south, like Montreal, Ottawa and even much of southern Ontario, the conditions have improved.”

Cheng predicted that some smoke would move back over southern Ontario and Quebec on the weekend but at lower concentration levels. Higher intensity concentrations of smoke are expected north of the St. Lawrence River, he said.

“We are looking at some showery conditions, so there is a chance of showers today, Saturday and even into Sunday,” Cheng said.

Open this photo in gallery:

Smoke from forest fires in Quebec casts a smokey haze over Toronto’s skyline as as viewed from Riverdale Park East on June 6, 2023.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Environment Canada has warned that people with lung or heart diseases, older adults, children, pregnant people and those who work outdoors are at a higher risk of experiencing health effects from the smoke.

However, the agency also noted that wildfire smoke can be harmful to everyone’s health “even at low concentrations.”

In Alberta, the worst air quality was near Fort Chipewyan, which was on an evacuation order as a nearby fire burned out of control. Wood Buffalo and Grande Prairie also had high-risk air quality forecasts, while Edmonton and Calgary saw moderately bad air quality.

An out-of-control wildfire burning near the small Dene community of Sambaa K’e in the Northwest Territories is believed to have destroyed two cabins last week, the territory’s wildfire agency said. The fire had burned an estimated 2,650 square kilometres by Friday afternoon.

In British Columbia, air quality improved almost everywhere except for areas around Fort Nelson, Stone Mountain Park, Williston and the Peace River district.

Forecasters said showers on Saturday could sprinkle an aggressive wildfire that forced more than 2,000 people from their homes in northeastern B.C., but thunderstorms could sweep the region before any rain arrives. That could complicate efforts to fight the West Kiskatinaw River wildfire, which has burned 96 square kilometres in the three days since being discovered.

Wildfire updates in Quebec

Dozens of firefighters from France have arrived in Quebec, where they’ll join the fight against the more than 140 fires burning across the province.

There are 141 fires burning across the province this morning, including 127 in the bottom half of the province where firefighting efforts are concentrated.

Wildfire updates in Nova Scotia

Most evacuation orders were lifted Friday across Nova Scotia, almost two weeks after a series of unprecedented wildfires broke out in the southwestern corner of the province and in suburban Halifax.

Officials in Shelburne County, where the largest wildfire in the province’s history continued to burn out of control, lifted all evacuation orders at noon.

Wildfire updates in B.C.

Environment Canada says the thunderstorms in the Tumbler Ridge and Dawson Creek areas are coupled with heavy smoke and temperatures almost 10 degrees above normal.

That could complicate efforts to fight the raging West Kiskatinaw River wildfire, which has burned 96 square kilometres of bush and timber east of Tumbler Ridge in the three days since it was discovered.

The extreme fire activity prompted the District of Tumbler Ridge to skip an evacuation alert Thursday and jump right to an order requiring all 2,400 residents to get out immediately and seek refuge in Dawson Creek or Fort St. John.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says the blaze is among 83 active wildfires in the province.