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Canadian wildfires cause air quality alerts in South Dakota

Smoke Dinosaur Hill

Heavy smoke from Canadian wildfires encompasses Dinosaur Hill in Rapid City on Friday. The National Weather Service has issued air quality alerts for South Dakota that will linger through the weekend.

This weekend may not be the best to get picturesque photos of the Black Hills, as large wildfires in Canada and east to southeast winds have blanketed South Dakota with heavy smoke.

The conditions are also a health risk. As of Friday morning, the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources listed the Air Quality Index for Rapid City at 218, which is considered very unhealthy.

The air quality was worse Friday morning at Wind Cave National Park and Badlands National Park, with indices increasing nearly to the hazardous level. Oglala Sioux Tribe President Kevin Killer granted administrative leave Friday for all tribal employees because of the air quality surrounding the area to decrease the prolonged exposure to the smoke.

According to the DANR, very unhealthy levels are considered to be emergency conditions, where the entire population is more than likely to be affected by the smoke. At the hazardous level, everyone may experience more serious health effects.

Brian Walsh, public affairs director for the DANR, said the smoke from western Canada is a serious health issue, especially for the elderly and those with respiratory issues.

"These (conditions) can cause low visibility and increased fine particle matter pollution, which can be a health concern," Walsh said Friday, "Elderly citizens, young children, individuals with respiratory problems are generally most susceptible. If you have concerns about your health and potential impacts, consider avoiding excess physical exertion, minimizing outdoor activities, especially when there is low visibility caused by this smoke."

Walsh also encouraged people to keep the windows to their homes closed while the smoke impacts air quality and to get in contact with health care providers if health issues arise.

"If there is an emergency, contact 911, and if there are other concerns for your health be sure to get in contact with your doctor," Walsh said.

According to the National Weather Service in Rapid City, thick smoke is expected to cause low visibility and air quality alerts throughout the rest of the weekend.

Contact Nathan Thompson at nathan.thompson@rapidcityjournal.com.

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