Hundreds of wildfires, some of which began in late March, continue to burn across Canada, an open-ended inferno.

Sweeping into the Minnesota outdoor scene along with, at times, pungent smoke is the perception that air quality is poor or worse equally across the state. Like the weather, though, think variability.

Prevailing wildfire smoke has generated questions for some people who interact daily with canoe campers, anglers and others with hopes of getting out.

Clare Shirley and her husband, Dan, run Sawbill Canoe Outfitters, north of Tofte, Minn. She said she could count on one hand the number of days it's been smoky in and around Sawbill Lake, but inquiries when the smoke was intense in late June in other parts of the state, like the metro, prompted calls.

"I do think people are not booking North Shore or outdoor trips as much in part because there is so much smoke in the Twin Cities," Shirley said. "So oftentimes that assumption translates, to, well, 'If it is smoky here it must be smoky up there,' i.e., 'So we're not going camping this weekend.' "

Dawn Jensen, a specialist in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources whose territory includes Big Bog State Recreation Area in Waskish and Zippel Bay State Park in Williams, said smoke and air quality haven't affected visitation.

"This summer we have actually had customers say that the air was better here at Big Bog than it was where they were from in the southern part of the state," she wrote in an email to the Star Tribune.

A combination of wildfire location, weather systems and the "urban heat island" of the metro helps explain the disparity of smoke among regions.

David Brown, a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency air quality meteorologist, said most of the smoke entering the state has been from the fires in northern Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia and arrives when wind patterns are from the northwest.

Energy moving through the smoke can produce a low-pressure system and cold front, driving much of the smoke to the ground.

"Winds near the ground are generally from the north behind these cold fronts, and the smoke will dive south, more or less deflecting away from northeast Minnesota," Brown said.

Brown added that once smoke reaches east-central Minnesota, the fine particle levels — like ozone, central to the degree of air quality alert — increase more in the Twin Cities than nearby rural areas. "Our best guess is, the urban heat island is producing more mixing and pulling down more elevated smoke."

Normal, by and by

Shirley, at Sawbill, said their campground has been less busy. It's only been full three or four nights the entire season, and she attributed the unusual vacancy to heat and smoke in other parts of the state.

She added that some callers ask about fire and drought conditions. Since the Spice Lake fire, and the subsequent campfire ban in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and across the Superior National Forest that ended July 3, the region has had consistent rainfall. It's been welcome in a canoe camping season that Shirley said, in a positive way, has been "really average."

"It feels much more pre-pandemic," she added. "Things feel pretty normal."

While visitor calls have tapered off, the Ely Visitor Center and area outfitters also have fielded their share of inquiries about conditions. Jason Zabokrtsky of Ely Outfitting Company said there have been many calls about smoke but no cancellations. Too, paddlers have come out of the BWCA with no complaints.

Zabokrtsky recalled two years ago. The wildfires on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border scared off paddlers with plans for Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, where parts of the park burned and were closed beginning in mid-July.

"We've been lucky [this year], because we have had relatively good air quality," he said, adding that, but for a few intense days, the temperatures (highs, 70s; lows, 40s to 50s) have been ideal for customers.

Farther north and west, Josh Hagemeister, a full-time fishing guide and co-owner of Island View Resort on Rainy Lake, said the smoke hasn't affected any bookings at the resort or in his guide boat. He answered the phone Tuesday while catching walleyes with clients from southern Minnesota.

"Surprisingly, no,'' he said. "It just clears up in the nick of time and doesn't linger very long.''

If wildfire smoke became heavy for days on end, he would expect some fallout, he said. But for 99% of his resort's guests, it's no big deal.

Sandy Ramy of Gunflint Pines Resort and Campground on the Canadian border said guests this summer have been surprised by the absence of wildfire smoke.

"We've had three or four days when it was heavy enough to smell and even then it was only for a couple of hours each time,'' Ramy said. "This has not affected us whatsoever.''

She said several guests have inquired about the smoke before their arrival date, sometimes out of concern raised by their family doctor. "They're surprised it's not an issue.''

Jeff Anderson, general manager of multiple resorts on Lake of the Woods near Baudette, said the smoke has been sporadic this summer, coming and going without causing problems.

"We see it and feel it some days when the wind blows out of the west,'' he said. "It hasn't been horrible.''