Thunder Bay

Firesmoke Canada website tracks B.C. smoke to northwestern Ontario

Many people in the region have detected a hint of forest fire in the air, despite a general lack of recent local wildfire activity. But an air quality specialist says the smoke is likely coming all the way B.C.

Air quality specialist says even fires in Siberia can sometimes be detected in Canada.

Smoke from wildfires seen from Spray Meadow outside Banff. Some of that smoke is finding its way to Northwestern Ontario. (Louise Degagné)

The old saying "where there's smoke, there's fire" is feeling a little inaccurate in northwestern Ontario this summer.

This past weekend many people in the region detected a hint of forest fire in the air, despite a general lack of local wildfire activity.

But an air quality specialist with the Ministry of Environment in British Columbia says the smoke is likely coming all the way from Williams Lake and 100 Mile House.

Wildfires there have been burning for days, and continue to consume large chunks of forest.

Warren McCormick says weather patterns can make wildfire smoke appear thousands of kilometres from its source.

"These fires are very hot," said McCormick." They inject a lot of smoke high into the atmosphere. Where it can be carried with the upper level winds. And then somewhere downstream it runs into another weather pattern..."

McCormick said it's not unusual to smell wildfire smoke from many far flung places in the world.

"We've had events where we have had smoke from as far away as Siberia impacting North America, Alaska, Northern Yukon. Many summers we will get that."

McCormick, who is one of the people who helps to update a website called Firesmoke Canada (, said the site uses something called the Bluesky system to track the movement of smoke.

"The Bluesky system is borrowed from the U.S. Forest system," he said. "It's a system of programs that are used to predict where wildfire smoke goes and how bad it will impact communities on a regional, provincial and national scale."

McCormick said to update the website, they get fire location data, as well as the type of forest that is being burned, from Natural Resources Canada. He said that information is then sent to a model that predicts how much smoke will be produced, and that - in conjunction with a weather model the University of British Columbia runs - is used to determine how much smoke is on the ground and where it goes."

McCormick said the models are run year round, but the information is only published during the summer.

He said the fine particulate in wildfire smoke has many potential negative health impacts on young and old alike.

McCormick said the Firesmoke information is widely used by the public and professionals.

"We put this on an outside website and we have three products on there now: A Canada wide forecast, a western forecast and an eastern forecast."

 McCormick noted that sometimes the more accurate smoke assessments are found on the National forecast as its information is updated more often.