Canadian wildfire smoke spreads ‘hazardous’ air in both countries

Associated Press

Published: 06-07-2023 5:42 PM

Smoke from Canadian wildfires continued to turn New Hampshire skies hazy as it poured into the East Coast and Midwest on Wednesday, sending school recesses indoors, canceling flights out of New York’sLaGuardia Airport, and prompting people to fish out pandemic-era face masks.

The state missed the worst of the low-level smoke Wednesday, which came south through Ohio and then east toward New York city, air-pollution reached “hazardous” levels, with massive tongues of “unhealthy” air extending as far as Virginia and Indiana. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, which operates a number of automated air-quality monitoring devices, rated the state’s air pollution as “moderate” Wednesday and said it was unhealthy for sensitive groups such as people with asthma. 

The problem was especially acute above 3,000 due to wind patterns, DES said. Conditions are not expected to improve much, if at all, for at least the rest of the week.

Canada’s wildfire season started early this year as climate change has reduced precipitation and raised average temperatures, and it has accelerated very quickly, Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre spokesperson Jennifer Kamau said.

Smoke from the blazes in various parts of the country has been lapping into the U.S. since last month and intensified with a recent spate of fires in Quebec, where more than 100 fires were burning and considered out of control Tuesday. The largest town in Northern Quebec — Chibougamau, population about about 7,500 — was evacuated Tuesday.

Kamau said more than 950 firefighters and other personnel have already arrived from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and crews from Costa Rica will be arriving soon.

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Across the border, the effects of the blazes blotted out skylines and irritated throats.

“It’s sunny, but there’s no sun,” Michele Kluk said as she emerged from a Target store in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, with “a bunch” of allergy medication in response to the air  quality.

Schools in multiple states canceled sports and other outdoor activities, shifting recess and lunch time inside. Live horse racing was canceled Wednesday and Thursday at Delaware Park Wilmington. Organizers of Global Running Day, a virtual 5K and celebration of running, posted a warning on their website advising participants to monitor the air quality in their cities and change their running plans accordingly.

Some political demonstrations in spots from Manhattan to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, were moved indoors or postponed, and striking Hollywood writers were pulled off picket lines in the New York metropolitan area.

Sitting in a Brooklyn park with a black face mask on, nanny Meagan Bobb said she was surprised by how bad the air was.

“The little girl was coughing, and I was having problems breathing when I was walking around, so we’re looking to go inside somewhere soon,” Bobb said.

The smoke exacerbated health problems for people such as Vicki Burnett, 67, who has asthma and has had serious bouts with bronchitis.

After taking her dogs out Wednesday morning in Farmington Hills, Michigan, Burnett said, “I came in and started coughing and hopped back into bed.”

Still, she stressed that she's concerned for Canadians, not just herself.

“It’s unfortunate, and I’m having some problems for it, but there should be help for them,” she said.