Air quality alert for Brainerd lakes area in effect until noon May 17

A band of very heavy ground-level smoke from wildfires in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan will push into Minnesota.

A map of air quality in Minnesota.
An air quality alert is in effect 10 p.m. Wednesday, May 17, 2023, until noon Thursday, May 18, 2023.
Contributed / Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

BRAINERD โ€” An air quality alert is in effect until noon Thursday, May 18, due to smoke from Canadian wildfires moving over northwest and central Minnesota

Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing and Morrison counties are within the alert, which goes into effect 10 p.m. Wednesday night, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Headline News from the Brainerd Dispatch

A band of very heavy ground-level smoke from wildfires in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan provinces is moving southeast and a strong cold front will pull the smoke south toward northwest Minnesota. Northwest winds will push the smoke through the state and the smoke should reach central and southwest Minnesota by noon Thursday.

Smoke will likely move through the Twin Cities and southeast Minnesota beginning in the late afternoon Thursday. Smoke will begin to clear and air quality should improve across northwest Minnesota beginning Thursday afternoon. Smoke should clear southeast Minnesota by Friday morning.

Fine particle levels are expected to reach the red air quality index category, a level considered unhealthy for everyone, across northwest Minnesota. Fine particle levels are expected to reach the orange air quality index category, a level considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, across north central Minnesota, including the Brainerd lakes area. In the orange area, sensitive groups should avoid prolonged time outdoors.


What this alert means

Air moves long distances and carries pollutants, the MPCA reported. During air quality alerts due to wildfires, the air is mixed with harmful smoke. Wildfire smoke spreads or lingers depending on the size of the fires, the wind, and the weather.

The air quality index is color-coded. Air quality alerts are issued when the air quality index is forecast to reach an unhealthy level, which includes forecasts in the orange, red, purple, and maroon categories. For a full description of each air quality category, visit .

Orange air quality: Unhealthy for sensitive groups

Sights and smells: In areas where air quality is in the orange air quality index category due to wildfires โ€” such as is expected in the Brainerd lakes area โ€” the sky may look hazy and residents may smell smoke even when wildfires are far away.

Health effects: This air is unhealthy for sensitive groups and pollution may aggravate heart and lung disease as well as cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. Symptoms may include chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and fatigue.

What to do: People in sensitive groups are encouraged to reduce outdoor physical activities, take more breaks, or do less intense activities to reduce their exposure. People with asthma should follow their asthma action plan and keep their rescue inhaler nearby.

Whoโ€™s most at risk

Poor air quality impacts health. Fine particle pollution from wildfire smoke can irritate eyes, nose, and throat, and cause coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fatigue. Smoke particles are small enough they can be breathed deeply into lungs and enter the bloodstream. This can lead to illnesses such as bronchitis or aggravate existing chronic heart and lung diseases, triggering heart palpitations, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and strokes.

Certain groups experience health effects from unhealthy air quality sooner than others, either because they are more sensitive to fine particle pollution or because they are exposed to larger amounts of it.

Sensitive groups include:


  • People who have asthma or other breathing conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, known as COPD,
  • People who have heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes,
  • Pregnant people,
  • Children and older adults.

People with increased exposure include:

  • People of all ages who do longer or more vigorous physical activity outdoors,
  • People who work outdoors, especially workers who do heavy manual labor,
  • People who exercise or play sports outdoors, including children,
  • People who donโ€™t have air conditioning and need to keep windows open to stay cool,
  • People in housing not tight enough to keep unhealthy air out, or who do not have permanent shelter.

Anyone experiencing health effects related to poor air quality should contact their health care provider. Those with severe symptoms, chest pain, trouble breathing, or who fear they may be experiencing a heart attack or stroke should call 911 immediately.

Our newsroom occasionally reports stories under a byline of "staff." Often, the "staff" byline is used when rewriting basic news briefs that originate from official sources, such as a city press release about a road closure, and which require little or no reporting. At times, this byline is used when a news story includes numerous authors or when the story is formed by aggregating previously reported news from various sources. If outside sources are used, it is noted within the story.

Hi, I'm the Brainerd Dispatch. I started working a few days before Christmas in 1881 and became a daily paper two years later. I've gone through a lot of changes over the years, but what has never changed is my commitment to community and to local journalism. I've got an entire team of dedicated people who work night and day to make sure I go out every morning, whether in print, as an e-edition, via an app or with additional information at News, weather, sports โ€” videos, photos, podcasts and social media โ€” all covering stories from central Minnesota about your neighbors, your lakes, your communities, your challenges and your opportunities. It's all part of the effort to keep people connected and informed. And we couldn't do it without support.
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