Millions of people breathe dangerous air as smoke from Canadian wildfires billows south over the United States

NEW YORK (AP) Smoke from Canadian wildfires has poured into the East Coast and Midwest of the United States Wednesday, blanketing both nations’ capitals in an unhealthy haze, grounding flights at major airports, postponing Major League Baseball games and prompting people to dig up the face masks of the pandemic era.

Canadian officials have asked other countries for more help fight more than 400 wildfires nationwide that have already displaced 20,000 people. Dangerous levels of air pollution spread across the New York metropolitan area, central New York state, and parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Huge tongues of unhealthy air extended as far north as North Carolina and Indiana, affecting millions.

I can taste the air, Dr. Ken Strumpf said in a Facebook post from Syracuse, New York, which was wrapped in a pall of amber. The smoke, he later said by phone, also made him a little dizzy.

The Air Quality Index, a United States Environmental Protection Agency metric for air pollution, has at times exceeded a staggering 400 in Syracuse, New York City, and Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. A level of 50 or lower is considered good; anything above 300 is considered dangerous, when even healthy people are advised to reduce outdoor physical activity.

In Baltimore, Debbie Funk sported a blue surgical mask as she and husband, Jack Hughes, took their daily stroll around Fort McHenry, a national monument that overlooks the Patapsco River. The air hung thick over the water, darkening the horizon.

I went out this morning and it was like a cloud of smoke, Funk said.

Canadian officials say this is shaping up to be the nation’s worst fire season ever. It started early on drier than usual ground and accelerated very quickly, depleting firefighting resources across the country, firefighters and environmental officials said.

Smoke from fires in various parts of the country has reached the United States since last month, but has intensified with the recent fires in Quebec, where about 100 were deemed out of control on Wednesday which, ominously, was National Air Day cleaned in Canada.

The smoke was so thick in downtown Ottawa, Canada’s capital, that the office towers just across the Ottawa River were barely visible. In Toronto, Yili Ma said her hiking plans were canceled and she was forgoing restaurant patios, a beloved Canadian summer tradition.

I put the mask away for over a year and have now been wearing it since yesterday, the 31-year-old complained.

Quebec Premier François Legault said the province currently has the capacity to fight about 40 fires and the usual reinforcements from other provinces were strained by the conflagrations in Nova Scotia and elsewhere.

Jennifer Kamau, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center, said more than 950 firefighters and other personnel had arrived from the United States, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, with more to come soon.

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden has sent more than 600 firefighters and equipment to Canada. His administration has reached out to some US governors and local officials to provide assistance, he said.

Northern Quebec’s largest city, Chibougamau, with a population of about 7,500, was evacuated on Tuesday, and Legault said the roughly 4,000 residents of the northern Cree town of Mistissini would likely have to leave on Wednesday. But later, Mistissini’s boss Michael Petawabano said his community remains safe and asked residents to wait for instructions from Cree officials.

Eastern Quebec had rain Wednesday, but Montreal-based Environment Canada meteorologist Simon Legault said no significant rain was expected for days in remote areas of central Quebec, where fires are most intense.

U.S. National Weather Service meteorologist Zach Taylor said the current weather pattern in the central and eastern United States is essentially funneling into smoke. Some rain should help clear some air in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic this weekend or early next week, though more complete relief will come from containing or extinguishing the wildfires, he said. said.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said 1 million N95 masks will be available at state facilities. New York City beaches were closed and Mayor Eric Adams told residents to stay indoors as much as possible as smoke stained the horizon. The Bronx and Central Park zoos closed early and brought their animals inside.

The Federal Aviation Administration suspended some flights to LaGuardia Airport and slowed planes to Newark Liberty and Philadelphia because smoke limited visibility. It also helped delay arrivals at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, where a thick haze shrouded the Washington Monument and forced the cancellation of outdoor tours.

Major League Baseball has postponed games in New York and Philadelphia, and even an indoor WNBA game in Brooklyn has been cancelled. On Broadway, Killing Eve star Jodie Comer had trouble breathing and left the matinee after 10 minutes; the show has restarted with a replacement, the show’s publicists said. In Central Park, the famous outdoor performances of Shakespeare in the Park have been postponed until Friday.

Schools in multiple states have canceled sports and other outdoor activities, moving recess indoors. Live horse racing was canceled Wednesday and Thursday at Delaware Park in Wilmington. Organizers of Global Running Day, a virtual 5K, advised attendees to adjust their plans based on air quality.

New Jersey closed state offices early, and some political rallies in venues from Manhattan to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania were moved indoors or postponed. Hollywood’s extraordinary writers have been pulled off the picket lines in the New York metropolitan area.

Smoking has exacerbated the health problems of people like Vicki Burnett, 67, who suffers from asthma and has had severe bouts of bronchitis.

After walking his dogs Wednesday morning in Farmington Hills, Michigan, Burnett said, I went in and started coughing and went back to bed.

However, she stressed that she was worried about Canadians, not just herself.

It’s a shame, and I have problems with it, but there should be help for them, she said.

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Gillies reported from Toronto. Contributors were Associated Press reporters Randall Chase of Dover, Delaware; Michael Hill in Albany, New York; David Koenig in Dallas; Aamer Madhani in Washington; Brooke Schultz in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania; Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Lea Skene in Baltimore; Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York; Ron Todt in Philadelphia; Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan; and Mark Kennedy, Jake Offenhartz, Karen Matthews and Julie Walker in New York.

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This story corrected the attribution of Quebec rain forecast material to Montreal-based meteorologist Simon Legault of Environment Canada, not Quebec Premier François Legault.

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