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Wildfires causing haze, poor air quality in New England

  • Flames consume vehicles as the Dixie Fire tears through the Indian Falls community in Plumas County, Calif., Saturday, July 24, 2021. The fire destroyed multiple residences in the area. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) Noah Berger

  • Flames consume a home as the Dixie Fire tears through the Indian Falls community in Plumas County, Calif., Saturday, July 24, 2021. The fire destroyed multiple residences in the area. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) Noah Berger

  • Firefighters work to save a home as the Dixie Fire tears through the Indian Falls community in Plumas County, Calif., on Saturday, July 24, 2021. The home, along with neighboring residences, ended up burning. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) Noah Berger

  • Two cars that were destroyed by the Bootleg Fire sit near damaged property Thursday, July 22, 2021, near Bly, Ore. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard) Nathan Howard

  • This satellite image provided by Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies shows the wildfires in Northern California and Oregon on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. The Oregon fire, which was sparked by lightning, has ravaged the sparsely populated southern part of the state and had been expanding by up to 4 miles (6 kilometers) a day, pushed by strong winds and critically dry weather that turned trees and undergrowth into a tinderbox. (Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies via AP)

Monitor staff
Published: 7/26/2021 3:32:12 PM

As flames engulf thousands of acres of forest on the West Coast, the smoke and ash plumed into the air is traveling 3,000 miles across the country and causing a public health hazard in New Hampshire. 

Although New Hampshire is not facing life-threatening fires, a thin haze outside will cause low visibility and make breathing harder for those with lung conditions. 

Air particles from the wildfires are causing unhealthy levels of air pollution for sensitive groups – people who have asthma, lung disease or people who are simply active outdoors, according to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, which is encouraging individuals to limit outdoor activity on both Monday and Tuesday. 

That means state health and safety officials are urging people to stay inside for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic for the first time in months.

The air quality should improve Wednesday with winds moving the smoke out of the area. But this is not the first, and probably not the last time wildfire smoke will impact the Granite State. 

The number of unhealthy air quality days recorded in 2021 by pollution monitors nationwide is more than double the number to date in each of the last two years, according to figures provided to the Associated Press by the Environmental Protection Agency. Wildfires likely are driving much of the increase, officials said.

Wildfire smoke is not the same as a typical campfire as homes, buildings and vehicles have all been consumed by the wildfires. With rubber, metal, plastic and other substances burning, the smoke contains hundreds of chemical compounds and can be harmful in large doses. Health officials use the concentration of smoke particles in the air to gauge the severity of danger to the public.

Face masks now can serve a double purpose, protecting against both coronavirus and the air particle pollution. The most effective masks remain the N-95 as they block the smallest particles. 

People who live farther away from the flames unwittingly remain exposed to their repercussions, according to a study by Jeff Pierce, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University, and Sheryl Magzamen, an epidemiologist at Colorado State University. 

“It's certainly unhealthy,” said Pierce. “If you have asthma or any sort of respiratory condition, you want to be thinking about changing your plans if you're going to be outside.”

Over the weekend more than 85 large wildfires were burning around the country, most of them in Western states, like the Bootleg Fire in Oregon and the Devil’s Creek and Tamarack fires in California. Collectively the fires had burned over 1.4 million acres 

(Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.) 




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