Smoke from wildfires extends unhealthy air quality alert into May 19 for Minnesota

Air quality expected to be at unhealthy levels in Brainerd area

Hazy orange sun.
Hazy sunset on Wednesday, May 17, 2023, in Brainerd.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — The Brainerd lakes area will remain in an air quality alert through 6 a.m. Friday, May 19.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Thursday morning issued an air quality alert until 6 a.m. Friday for the entire state of Minnesota. Most of central Minnesota, including Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties, are expected to reach air quality levels unhealthy for everyone, the MPCA reported.

Headline News from the Brainerd Dispatch

A band of very heavy ground-level smoke from wildfires in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan is currently moving along a cold front in northwestern Minnesota. The smoke will continue to move south and east and eventually impact the entire state of Minnesota. The smoke should clear rapidly overnight into Friday morning.

Fine particle levels are expected to reach the red air quality index category, a level considered unhealthy for everyone, across all but far eastern Minnesota, including in the Brainerd lakes area. In the red area, everyone should avoid prolonged time outdoors.

Air quality index map.
Contributed / Minnesota Pollution Control Agency


What this alert means

Air moves long distances and carries pollutants. 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 .

Red air quality: Unhealthy

Sights and smells: In areas where air quality is in the red AQI category due to wildfires, the sky may look smoky. The air will look hazy, and you won’t be able to see long distances. You may smell smoke.

Health effects: This air is unhealthy for everyone. Anyone may begin to experience symptoms such as irritated eyes, nose and throat; coughing; chest tightness or shortness of breath. Sensitive or more exposed individuals may experience more serious health effects, including worsening of existing heart or lung disease and respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, possibly leading to an asthma attack, heart attack or stroke.

What to do: Reduce outdoor physical activities, take more breaks and avoid intense activities to reduce exposure. Sensitive and more exposed individuals should avoid prolonged or vigorous activities and consider shortening, rescheduling or moving outdoor events inside.

Hazy orange sun.
Hazy sunset on Wednesday, May 17, 2023, in Brainerd.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Who’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 that 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,
  • 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 don’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.

Stay informed

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 — videos, photos, podcasts and social media — 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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