Smoke from Canadian wildfires envelops the east coast, disrupting daily life

Smoke from Canadian wildfires envelops the east coast, disrupting daily life

Smoke from hundreds of wildfires raging across Canada engulfed the eastern United States Wednesday, disrupting the daily lives of tens of millions of Americans, creating a sea of ​​red-coded air quality alerts as far away as the Carolinas and causing widespread health concerns.

Nowhere was the scene more eerie than in New York City, where a thick haze blanketed the Statue of Liberty, shrouded Manhattan skyscrapers, delayed a baseball game at Yankee Stadium and forced a temporary suspension of flights at LaGuardia Airport due to poor visibility. Mayor Eric Adams has recommended people wear masks outdoors and canceled outdoor city events.

For the second day in a row, New York City had some of the worst air quality of any major city on the planet. But that was hardly the only place to experience the eerie, eerie, throat-burning smoke that scientists say may become a more common occurrence in a warming world.

In Philadelphia, as elsewhere, schools have canceled field trips, moved recess indoors, and postponed track and field games. In Washington, where monuments along the National Mall were shrouded in afternoon darkness, commuters wore masks that had nothing to do with a pandemic for the first time in years.

It looks like Mars outside, said Dennis Scannell, the co-owner of a typically bustling but now quiet baseball and softball training facility in Syracuse. The city’s Air Quality Index, a measure of outdoor pollution, registered 402 late Wednesday morning. Healthy is considered under 50.

In Binghamton, NY, the office of the National Weather Service tweeted on the darkening sky just before 10:00 The sun is no longer visible, everything is orange, the parking lot lights have come on, it said, next to a photo of the otherworldly scene.

Early Wednesday, Canadian officials reported more than 400 active fires, with about 240 listed as out of control. The hardest-hit province is Quebec, where at least 154 fires have been recorded.

At the current rate, government officials said this week, Canada is on track to experience the worst wildfire season in its history. Already this year, some 2,300 fires have burned about 9.4 million acres, according to government figures. In the Atlantic province of Nova Scotia, unusually intense fires burned more land this year than in the past 10 years combined.

Hot, dry conditions will increase the risk of bushfires in most of Canada this month, according to the Canadian government, which also expects higher-than-normal fire activity to continue throughout the bushfire season. Drier weather and high temperatures fueled by a warmer atmosphere are exacerbating the damage, Canadian officials say.

Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires and creating longer fire seasons in Canada, Michael Norton, a Canadian Forest Service official, told reporters earlier this week. Historical averages increasingly fail to reflect what we might see in the future, which is why the word unprecedented is being used more and more.

Unprecedented also seemed like a fair way to describe the sheer scale and intensity of the smoke that cloaked much of the East Coast Wednesday.

Deteriorating air quality prompted fresh warnings from officials throughout the day, as part of Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere have been upgraded to a red or unhealthy air quality alert. In Boston, the National Weather Service She said smoke could linger in southern New England through Thursday.

Government data on Wednesday afternoon showed a surprising swath of unhealthy air stretching from parts of upstate New York as far east as Connecticut, and south beyond Richmond to North Carolina. Parts of New York and Pennsylvania had eclipsed thresholds for very unhealthy or even dangerous air quality.

Exposure to smoke from wildfires can irritate the eyes, throat and sinuses, causing coughing and making it difficult to breathe normally. An insidious type of pollution made up of fine particles, common in smoke and soot and known as PM2.5, can also pose more serious problems for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, pregnant women and children. It can exacerbate conditions such as asthma and increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes in some populations.

Many Americans traditionally think of wildfires as a problem largely confined to the West, where massive and deadly wildfires have destroyed parts of California, Oregon, Washington and other states in recent years.

But smoke from large fires can travel across the country, covering large population centers. A 2021 study documented how smoke from both western wildfires and local sources may be more harmful to residents of the eastern United States than many realize.

Scientists also detailed how a warming world can fuel increasingly intense fires. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of some of the leading researchers on the planet, has said that unless humans dramatically reduce the burning of fossil fuels, it is likely that fire seasons will lengthen and more areas they will burn.

Marshall Burke, an associate professor in the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford University, said the fires are directly related to a major heat event that has occurred across Canada in recent weeks, noting the clear climate links.

While historically these events have been very rare, I think all the evidence suggests they will become less rare in the future as the climate warms, he said. So this is something we have to learn to prepare for.

At the White House on Wednesday, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that President Biden was receiving regular updates on the fires and that the United States has deployed more than 600 firefighters and personnel, as well as equipment such as water bombers, to help Canada fight the hells.

On the floor of the Senate, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) took time out to complain about wildfires of unnatural strength that continue to burn in Canada, sending toxic air and smoke across the border and over American cities .

Like many other public officials, he urged those in the path of the smoke to take individual precautions. But he also called the situation a reminder of the dangers posed by a hotter planet.

We cannot ignore that climate change continues to make these disasters worse. Warmer temperatures and severe droughts mean forests burn faster, hotter and bigger, Schumer said. This smoke and fog over New York and the rest of the Northeast is nature’s warning that we have a lot of work to do to reverse the destruction of climate change.

But Wednesday, in towns large and small along the East Coast, there was little to do but wait, hope that the distant fires would somehow die down and that the noxious cloud of the past few days would soon lift.

Six-year-old Mikhail Williams missed recess after it was canceled by his school in the district. Mikhail and his father, Duane Williams, played tag in a downtown park, where they noticed the effect of the smoke.

It’s like when you swallow sand, Elder Williams said. I feel the phlegm building up in the back of my throat.

My eyes burn, said Mikhail.

Do you know where the fire is? asked his grandmother, Donna Williams, 66.

Antarctica? the boy answered. Can you say Canada? his father asked.

New York residents and tourists reacted to smoke from the Canadian wildfire that continued to veil the city on June 7. (Video: Joyce Koh/The Washington Post)

New Yorkers, some of whom have whipped out their pandemic-era face coverings, meandered through the smoke that had descended to street level. The yellowish tint darkened the horizon in every direction. Some complained that their eyes were sore; others said they developed a cough. Adams (D) said the city’s air quality index hit 484 Wednesday as of 5 p.m.

Mark Strauss, 58, said the last time he remembers this type of air quality problem uptown was after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when we received smoke from the downtown site, he said . You could see smoke in the sky. It was similar to that.

In Oswego County, north of Syracuse, where air pollution skyrocketed to dangerous levels Wednesday, Joseph Provost was among those buttoned up in his home, along with his wife and children. He’s got asthma, and ever since the smoke from the fires came in, he’s been feeling it: scratchy throat, chest congestion, some difficulty breathing.

He made sure all windows remained closed. His inhaler was close at hand.

I probably won’t go out unless it’s absolutely necessary, she said. It’s that bad.

Outside of Rochester, where he spent 30 years as a meteorologist, Richard McCollough got up Wednesday to start his morning shift broadcasting the forecast on WDKX, a local radio station.

From his window, he saw a scene bathed in an orange glow. Visibility had dropped to less than a mile. McCollough has worked in Los Angeles and Cincinnati in the past and knows exactly how the right combination of fire and wind can produce a smoky haze that blankets a city.

He never expected to see him outside his farm in upstate New York. On Wednesday he did something for the first time ever at his current job: provide an air quality alert.

That’s never happened before, said McCollough, 62. I’ve never had to do it on the air.

Amudalat Ajasa, Matthew Cappucci, Amanda Coletta, Dan Diamond, Emmanuel Felton, Ian Livingston, Justine McDaniel, Mary Claire Molloy, Joshua Partlow, and Joanna Slater contributed to this report.

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How did the wildfires start in Canada? A look at what’s fueling the fires that have blanketed the East Coast in smoke

How did the wildfires start in Canada?  A look at what's fueling the fires that have blanketed the East Coast in smoke

Over the past six weeks, massive wildfires have swept across Canada prompting mass evacuations and burning more than 3.3 million acres of land, larger than the state of Maryland.

While Canada’s fire season runs from May to October, such destruction early in the season is rare. A month later, Canada is on track to have its most destructive wildfire season in history. Extreme temperatures and drought caused by climate change have created a powder keg.

This Canadian crisis has not been limited to the Far North. Smoke from the wildfires spread across much of the United States, affecting air quality for millions across the East Coast, as wildfires rage with no signs of stopping.

Why is Canada burning?

Hot, dry conditions are like firewood for fires. Much of Canada, like the rest of North America, has recently experienced record heat and drought as climate change continues to warm the planet.

Late last month, Canada experienced its hottest day ever when Lytton, British Columbia hit 49.6 degrees Celsius, 121 degrees Fahrenheit, shattering the previous record by 131 degrees. It bound Death Valley in California as the hottest place in North America that day.

In the Canadian prairies of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba – where fires are now raging – the drought has hit particularly hard. According to the Canada Drought Monitor, all 10 provinces are currently experiencing abnormal drought, moderate or severe drought.

According to the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System, the destruction caused by these fires up to this point in the season was 13 times worse than the 10-year average.

While New York City choked under thick smog it turned the skies orange and wrapped its skyscrapers and the Statue of LibertySen. Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday that climate change is driving the smoke blanketing the East Coast.

“These wildfires in Canada are truly unprecedented, and we cannot ignore that climate change continues to make these disasters worse,” he said. “Hotter temperatures and severe droughts mean forests are burning faster, hotter and bigger, and warming is happening at a faster rate in countries with higher latitudes. None of this – none of this is a coincidence “.

How did the wildfires start in Canada?

Dry, hot weather also generates more lightning. In a normal season, half of the fires in Canada are caused by lightning, but these fires account for more than 85% of the fire destruction. The other half is man-made.

In Quebec, for example, fires were started by lightning strikes, but Alberta officials said the cause of the fires was currently unknown. In other parts of the country, these fires have been man-made in a variety of ways, from discarded cigarette butts to sparks from passing trains.

Why are the wildfires in Canada out of control?

Harsh weather conditions are fueling these rapidly spreading fires, making them extremely difficult to fight.

The country is currently at “national preparedness level 5,” meaning that Canada has committed all of its national resources to mobilizing firefighting.

Chris Stockdale, a forest fire research officer with the Canadian Forest Service, told CBS News late last month that, as part of that “level 5” declaration, “international liaison officers” from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are arriving to help fight the fires.

Firefighters are also arriving from the U.S. More than 1,200 international firefighters have been deployed to Canada, the Canadian Press reported.

And the forecasts are hopeless. On Monday, the Canadian government released an updated forecast for the wildfire season saying “Current June projections indicate the potential for continued above-normal wildfire activity across much of the country during the 2023 wildfire season due to of the ongoing drought and the long-range forecast for warm temperatures.”

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Doctors warn of poor air quality health effects as smoke from Canadian bushfires blows across East Coast

Doctors warn of poor air quality health effects as smoke from Canadian bushfires blows across East Coast

A thick haze conquering the skies of much of the northeastern United States has prompted numerous cities to urge people to stay indoors, and for good reason. THE smoke from fires in Canada it has increased air pollution to levels that could cause health problems for exposed people, especially people from vulnerable groups.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, smoke from wildfires is a “complex mixture” of pollutants that can cause anywhere from minor to severe health effects. This is because the particulate matter within the smoke irritates the respiratory system, affecting the body’s ability to function even among those who are healthy, and even a short-term exposure of just a few days can have serious repercussions.

‘Sensitive groups’, including children, the elderly, pregnant people and people with pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular problems, are the most vulnerable to these impacts.

“The particulate matter in this haze is significant because it irritates the bronchial tubes, the little tubes that go down into the lungs and connect to the alveoli, which are the sacs that allow you to breathe,” Dr. Bob Lahita, a rheumatologist, said. he told CBS News, saying that anyone from sensitive groups should avoid going outside.

According to the National Weather Service, “poor air quality can be dangerous.” Here’s what to look out for.

Headache, irritation and fatigue

Among the milder symptoms when it comes to the health effects of poor air quality are headaches, sinus and eye irritation, and fatigue. While not as severe as other potential effects, they could cause significant discomfort or worsen other impacts.

“If you look at your car this morning and it’s been parked outside and there’s a thin layer of soot on top of your car, well, often it’s going to be inside your lung, inside your chest,” Lahita said. “And that’s a big deal. A lot of people can’t tolerate it and will be coughing and sneezing all day.”

Breathing problems

Those with pre-existing respiratory problems, including asthma, are more susceptible to the impacts of poor air quality fueled by wildfires. Difficulty breathing, asthma attacks, sore throats, bronchitis, reduced lung function, coughing and chest pains are all health effects of fire smoke and poor air quality. And according to the EPA, it often leads to an “increased risk” of emergency room visits.

You don’t have to be in a direct line of fires to have those impacts.

“Pollution from wildfire smoke can go up to 14 miles into the air and then be carried by wind currents, which is why it affects everyone,” Cleveland Clinic pulmonologist Neha Solanki said in 2021. “So even if you don’t live directly next to the fires, you’re still exposed to all that toxic pollution.”

More than 9.3 million acres have been “charred” by dozens of ongoing wildfires in Canada, The Weather Channel’s Stephanie Abrams said on “CBS Mornings” Wednesday. And the smoke that has since drifted across the United States”it might last for a while.”

“There will be heavy smoke pollution through at least Saturday, especially in the Northeast,” he said.

Cardiovascular problems

Similar to respiratory problems, pre-existing cardiovascular problems are also a concern when it comes to air quality. Heart failure, heart attack and stroke are all possible when exposed to poor air quality, even for short periods of time. Chronic heart problems, such as congestive heart failure and high blood pressure, have been linked to premature death.

Weakened immune system

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there is evidence that smoke inhalation weakens the immune system.

“We breathe in smoke and it enters our bloodstream,” Dr. Solanki said. “Then the particles stick to a location in our body and the immune system kicks in and can create an inflammatory response.”

In 2021, a Harvard study found that thousands of COVID cases and deaths in California, Oregon and Washington could be linked to increased air pollution from smoke from wildfires.

How bad is the air quality?

On Wednesday, CNYwhich typically scores “good” on the Air Quality Index, ended up with one of the highest amounts of air pollution in global cities monitored at a level considered “unhealthy” by national standards.

Much of the Northeast was below the same “unhealthy” level Wednesday morning, according to federal monitoring, with some areas — including parts of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland reaching “very unhealthy” levels, the which means that the general population, not just sensitive groups, is susceptible to health impacts.

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