By India Today World Desk: Massive wildfires have spread across Canada over the past six weeks, promoting mass evacuations, and more than 3.8 million hectares (8.2 million acres) have burned so far this year. Hundreds of uncontrolled forest fires blazed across Canada on Wednesday, putting critical infrastructure at risk and sending a blanket of smoky air wafting over US cities.
The fires have forced schools across the US East Coast to cancel outdoor activities and slow down commercial airline traffic, Reuters reported. According to officials, Canada is currently “on course for its worst-ever wildfire season on record.”
The Federal Aviation Administration was forced to slow air traffic into the New York City area and Philadelphia from elsewhere on the East Coast and upper Midwest due to reduced visibility from the haze. The flights were delayed, averaging about a half hour.
Schools up and down the East Coast called off outdoor activities, including sports practices, field trips and recesses, to protect students. In Bethesda, Maryland, a high school moved its graduation ceremony indoors, while a Brooklyn, New York, elementary school postponed its “Spring Fling” dance party. A school in Montclair, New Jersey, called off a fifth-grade trip to an amusement park.
AMERICANS ASKED TO STAY INDOORS
Millions of Americans were urged to stay indoors on Wednesday as smoke from Canadian wildfires drifted south, blanketing cities in a thick yellowish haze.
The US National Weather Service issued air quality alerts for virtually the entire Atlantic seaboard. Health from Vermont to South Carolina and as far west as Ohio and Kansas warned residents that spending time outdoors could cause respiratory problems due to high levels of fine particulates in the atmosphere, reported Reuters.
“It’s critical that Americans experiencing dangerous air pollution, especially those with health conditions, listen to local authorities to protect themselves and their families,” US President Joe Biden said on Twitter.
Thick haze and soot extending from high elevations to ground level marked the worst outbreak of wildfire smoke to blanket the Northeastern US in more than 20 years, private forecasting service Accuweather said.
Smoke from the blazes in various parts of the country has been lapping into the US since last month but intensified with recent fires in Quebec, where about 100 were considered out of control Wednesday — which, unsettlingly, was national Clean Air Day in Canada.
“We’re seeing more and more of these fires because of climate change. These fires are affecting everyday routines, lives and livelihoods, and our air quality,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement on Twitter.
Hundreds of American firefighters have recently arrived in Canada, and more are on the way. On the phone today, I spoke with @POTUS Biden about this critical support – and I thanked him for all the help Americans are providing as we continue to fight these devastating wildfires.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 7, 2023
“In coming years we will have to reflect seriously on how we can equip ourselves to deal with this new reality. We will be facing more and more extreme weather events that will cost us a lot more,” he told the briefing.
PEOPLE WEARING MASKS
With wildfires raging across Canada’s western provinces, millions of people in North America have been advised to wear N-95 masks outdoors due to poor air quality, reported The BBC.
New York will begin distributing free masks on Thursday. Canada has said that people should wear a mask if they are unable to remain indoors, the report said. Officials warn that the dangerously smoky conditions are expected to persist into the weekend.
“It makes breathing difficult,” Mohammed Abass told Reuters as he walked down Broadway in Manhattan. “I’ve been scheduled for a road test for driving, for my driving license today, and it was cancelled.”
Calling the situation an “emergency crisis”, New York Governor Kathy Hochul noted that the air pollution index for parts of her state were eight times above normal.
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL ALSO IMPACTED
Even Major League Baseball was impacted, as the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies both postponed home games scheduled for Wednesday. A National Women’s Soccer League match in Harrison, New Jersey, was also rescheduled, as was a WNBA women’s basketball game in Brooklyn, reported Reuters.
If fires continue to burn at this rate, Canada could be facing its worst wildfire season on record. The White House has said it will send support to Canada to help battle the fires, the BBC reported.
Air quality in New York is projected to remain “unhealthy” until Thursday, while Washington, DC also braces for poor air levels as the smoke moves south. Experts have warned those in the areas impacted by the smoke to take warnings about low air quality seriously.