Smoke from wildfires in the west causes air pollution across the country
Wildfires raging across the western United States and Canada, including a two-week-old “monster” fire in Oregon, have spewed smoke and soot that blew towards the is and caused harmful air pollution as far as New York.
In 13 western states, more than 80 large active wildfires have charred nearly 1.3 million acres (526,090 hectares) of drought-dried vegetation in recent weeks, an area larger than the Delaware, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho.
Several hundred more fires burned across western and central Canada. They included 86 classified as uncontrollable on Tuesday in British Columbia alone, which led authorities to declare a state of emergency.
The jet stream and other transcontinental air currents carried smoke and ash thousands of kilometers. Residents of remote towns felt the contamination of the air in their eyes, noses and lungs.
In New York City, where a gray haze enveloped the Manhattan skyline, the Air Quality Index (AQI) for fine particles reached 170, a level considered harmful even to healthy people and nine times higher than World Health Organization exposure recommendations. Philadelphia reached 172.
Other northeastern cities, including Boston and Hartford, Connecticut, had readings in the unhealthy zone above 150. Residents were advised to wear face masks outdoors to limit exposure.
Smoke from Canadian wildfires in Manitoba and Ontario in the United States likely pushed the AQI in Detroit and Cleveland above 125, considered unhealthy for sensitive people, the NIFC meteorologist said, Nick Nauslar. Smoke from forest fires from the western provinces of Canada reached east to Ontario, triggering broad government air quality warnings.
In the western United States, parts of Idaho and Montana suffered unhealthy levels of air pollution from 40 nearby large fires and smoke from the Bootleg fire in southern Oregon, currently the largest in the United States.
Heavy exposure to smoke from wildfires has been linked to long-term respiratory consequences for firefighters, including a significantly elevated risk of developing asthma, according to a University of Alberta study released this week. week.
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The general population also faces serious health effects.
“Exposure to smoke from wildfires (…) increases susceptibility to respiratory infections, including COVID, increases the severity of these infections and makes recovery more difficult,” the Federal Councilor said by email in Air Resources Margaret Key.
THE “MONSTER” FIRE ENTERING THE 3RD WEEK
The forest fires themselves posed a more direct risk to life and property.
The Bootleg Fire has blackened 388,600 acres (157,260 hectares) of dry brush and wood in and around the Fremont-Winema National Forest, about 250 miles south of Portland, since July 6. Only three other forest fires in Oregon in the last century have burned more territory.
On Tuesday, an army of some 2,200 people had succeeded in digging containment lines around 30% of the outskirts of the blaze, as the blaze spread further east and north.
Incident commander Rob Allen said in his daily report that the dry fuels in the fire area “would continue to burn and smoke for weeks.”
“Fighting this fire is a marathon, not a sprint,” Allen wrote. “We’re in there for as long as it takes to contain this monster safely.”
At least 67 houses were destroyed and 3,400 others were listed as threatened, with around 2,100 people ordered to evacuate or to be ready to flee at any time.
Western conflagrations, marking a more intense than normal start to the forest fire season, coincided with record heat that has ravaged much of the region in recent weeks and killed hundreds.
Scientists said the increasing frequency and intensity of forest fires is largely attributable to prolonged drought and increased episodes of excessive heat that are symptomatic of climate change.
The Bootleg fire is so large that it sometimes generated its own climate – towering clouds of pyrocumulus of condensed moisture sucked through the fire’s smoke column from the burnt vegetation and of the surrounding air. These clouds can create thunderstorms and strong winds capable of starting new fires and spreading flames.