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As smoke drifts in, Minnesota sends crews to battle western wildfires

Sunset as seen from Skyline Parkway in Duluth on Thursday evening. Smoke from western wildfires has been creating orange-red sunsets in recent days. (Photo by Andrew Krueger / akrueger@duluthnews.com)1 / 2
Crews from northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan board a plane Friday at Duluth International Airport, en route to a large wildfire in Washington. (Photo courtesy of Jean Goad)2 / 2

In exchange for a layer of smoky haze spurred by western wildfires, Minnesota is sending two crews of wildland firefighters out west.

The Minnesota Interagency Fire Center in Grand Rapids said Friday that two, 20-person crews from Minnesota will join crews from Wisconsin and Michigan leaving from Duluth.

The crews are headed to the Chiwaukum Creek fire near Leavenworth, Wash.

That fire already has burned more than 6,000 acres and threatens hundreds of homes. Many areas have been evacuated as long-term drought has combined with high winds to fuel fires.

The Midwest crews are made up of trained wildland firefighters, many of them employees of state, federal and tribal natural resource agencies. The initial attack crews will be on loan to Washington for two weeks. Minnesota also is supporting firefighting efforts with personnel and equipment in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico.

While conditions in the Northland have been too wet for many major fires this year, the western U.S. and Canada have seen a rapid escalation of fires in recent weeks.

Several massive fires in Canada’s Northwest Territories are credited with sending smoke over Minnesota this week, spurring hazing skies and orange-red sunsets.

Of the 186 wildfires in the Northwest Territories to date this year, 156 of them are still burning. That includes the massive Birch Creek fire that has burned more than 250,000 acres, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center.

Another 60 fires have burned more than 20,000 acres in British Columbia.

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