Smoke from Canada Wildfires Creates Breathing Hazard

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Need to Know from SafeWise
  • Smoke from Canadian wildfires is drifting down to the U.S., impacting the Midwest and Northeast.
  • Residents are back to wearing masks and staying indoors to avoid hazardous air.
  • Central New York, in particular, is facing toxic air quality unlike any seen in the country before.
  • The poor air quality could extend through the rest of the week and into the weekend as impacted areas wait for rain.

Canada is experiencing one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, and haze and smoke from the wildfires are coming down to the U.S. While this isn’t unheard of—California cities deal with this during wildfire season—the wildfires are impacting areas of the U.S. that don’t typically experience hazardous air quality.

The smoke is reaching as far south as Florida and west to Minnesota. Air quality indexes are breaking records—and not in a good way. Schools have been cancelling outdoor activities, and cities are encouraging residents to stay indoors. In fact, five of the seven areas with the cleanest air quality are dealing with smoke and hazardous air this week.

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As of June 7, nearly 2,3000 wildfires have burned 9.4 million acres in Canada. “Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of woodland fires and creating longer fire seasons in Canada,” Michael Norton, a Canadian Forest Service official, told reporters on Monday.

What is causing the hazardous air?

In Canada, there are 416 active fires, with 240 listed as “out of control,” where the smoke is coming to the U.S. These wildfires are highly unusual for this time of year and have burned over 17 times as much acreage thus far than previous years. The fires are brought on by record heat and climate change.

Since the fires are still raging, there is no timeline for when the smoke will stop. For U.S. regions, the air will come down to a combination of wind direction and rain, which could shift the direction of the smoke and help dissipate it.

Cities we ranked with the best air quality in the U.S. now have some of the worst air quality in the U.S. due to wildfire smoke and its proximity to the Canadian border. As winds shift, the smoke is also covering more of the eastern seaboard and midwest regions.

“Ultimately, this is going to continue for the next few days and likely into the weekend,” Basil Seggos, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner, told reporters on Wednesday afternoon. “We’ll pray for rains up north and for winds to shift.”

How to protect yourself outdoors?

“This is a totally unprecedented event for the East Coast,” Ethan Coffel, a climatologist at Syracuse University, told The New York Times. Coffel said he was staying indoors with air purifiers all day, which can help ensure your indoor stays safe. That’s the advice we recommend too, and keeping the air quality good inside is essential.

But for people venturing outdoors, the advice is simple. “The best thing to do is avoid breathing in the dangerous air,” our safety expert Rebecca Edwards says. “That means things like closing the windows to your home and vehicle, and avoiding outside exercise—especially intense activities like running or cycling.”

However, staying inside all day is not easy—especially if you have to run errands, pick up kids from school, or work outside. Rebecca recommends wearing a KN95 or N95 mask and taking it easy. “The harder you breathe, the more of that toxic air you take into your body,” she says.

No matter where you are, checking your area’s air quality index, air pollution score, and forecast is essential. “Use that info to plan for the bad air,” Rebecca says. If you can, work from home, keep kids indoors, and exercise inside “where you can get those steps without the nasty particles!”

The progress of smoke from Canadian wildfires is changing daily, and staying up-to-date with your local weather service and health department is crucial.

Alex Kerai
Written by
Alex Kerai
Alex began writing for student newspapers and has managed to turn that into a career. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he wrote about small businesses for Biz2Credit and Business.org. Before that, he spent time in communications for higher education institutions, created marketing materials for nonprofits, and worked for entertainment companies in Los Angeles. Today, he reports on emerging consumer trends and his work can be seen on The Penny Hoarder, SafeWise, Business.org, Reviews.org, Move.org, WhistleOut.com, CableTV.com, HighSpeedInternet.com, and SatelliteInternet.com. When he's not writing, Alex watches too much TV, plays guitar, reads and writes fiction, and goes on nature walks.

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