Environment /

Wildfire Smoke From Canada Blankets Northeast, Causes Travel Disruptions

Over 8 million acres have burned during the 2023 wildfire season in Canada

Smoke drifting south from wildfires in Canada triggered urgent air quality warnings across the East Coast of the United States.

At least 16 states are under air quality advisory, as smoke haze stretches from New England to the Carolinas and into the Midwest. The smoke has obstructed visibility in some areas so severely that two airports were forced to ground flights.

Approximately 8.7 million acres have burned so far into Canada’s wildfire season. The total equates to an area the size of Vermont, per ABC News. Firefighters are working to contain fires in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on June 6 that more than 230 fires are raging across the country and that over 20,000 people have been evacuated, per the BBC.

Heavy smoke produced by the fire now spans an estimated 500 miles, stretching from Lake Superior above Michigan to Massachusetts Bay. 

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection warned state residents on June 5 – especially “sensitive groups” such as people with asthma, older adults, children, teenagers, or those who are active while outdoors – to “reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion, take more breaks, do less intense activities, follow asthma action plans, and keep quick relief medicine handy.”

“People with either lung disease or heart disease are at greater risk from exposure to ozone,” the group advised. The warning was extended through June 7.

Air quality advisories were also issued in New York where the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation labeled air quality “unhealthy.”

New York’s LaGuardia Airport was directed to ground its flights by the Federal Aviation Administration due to low visibility. Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey was advised to slow its flights and warned travelers of delays 

New York City Mayor Eric Adams advised New Yorkers to wear face masks and to “not conduct outdoor activities if not necessary.”

While there may be potential for significantly improved conditions by Friday morning, smoke predictability that far out is low. It is difficult to predict the movement of this smoke,” said Adams at a press conference on June 7. “This is an unpredictable series of events, and we cannot provide guidance more than a day in advance at this point. As a result, we’re encouraging New Yorkers to stay home, indoors, tonight and tomorrow whenever possible, especially our vulnerable New Yorkers.”

He also said the smoke is “climate change in action” and called for continued reduction in emissions. 

Several Major League Baseball games that were scheduled to take place in East Coast cities have been postponed as a result of the wildfire smoke, CBS News.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden was briefed about the Canadian wildfires last week and that more than 600 American firefighters and equipment, like water bombers, had been deployed to assist.

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