Schools across the US East Coast cancelled outdoor activities and New Yorkers were urged to stay indoors as out-of-control Canada wildfires continue to burn millions of hectares of forest.
Heavy smoke from wildfires that continue to burn huge tracts of forest across Canada has drifted south, blanketing New York and neighbouring states as far south as Mexico in a thick, orange haze.
Air quality has reached unhealthy levels in Canada and several US East Coast regions, prompting air pollution warnings for more than 98 million people across the Northeast, Midwest, and mid-Atlantic.
New York City, which briefly ranked as the city with the world’s worst air pollution on Wednesday morning, currently has 43.4 times the PM2.5 concentration value recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), according to air quality monitoring platform IQAir.
On Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a ground stop at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, delaying thousands of flights due to low visibility conditions. Meanwhile, the National Women’s Soccer League announced it would postpone a match between the New Jersey-New York Hotham and Orlando Pride in Harrison, New Jersey, citing poor air quality conditions.
Schools across the state canceled outdoor activities. Mayor Eric Adams urged New Yorkers to stay inside or wear masks outdoors to battle the hazardous smoke, blaming climate change for the “unprecedented event”.
“While this may be the first time we’ve experienced something like this on this magnitude…it is not the last. Climate change accelerated these conditions,” he said.
At our @UN Headquarters in New York, we can feel the deteriorating air quality as smoke from the wildfires in Canada moves south.
With global temperatures on the rise, the need to urgently reduce wildfire risk is critical.
We must make peace with nature. We cannot give up. pic.twitter.com/pm8HkNBwRN
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) June 7, 2023
An ‘Unprecedented’ Wildfire Season
Firefighters in Nova Scotia, Quebec, and parts of Ontario have been working relentlessly for nearly two months to contain the blazes that have so far scorched more than 3.8 million hectares (9.4 million acres) of forest. Canada’s “unprecedented” wildfire season has forced tens of thousands of people in communities nationwide to evacuate since fires began in late April.
There are currently more than 400 active wildfires across the country, 239 of which are classified as “out of control”. Quebec is currently the most affected province, with 150 active fires and little sign of relief as weather forecasters say heavier rain is not expected until early next week. More than 11,000 Quebeckers were under evacuation orders but the number was expected to surpass 15,000 by the end of the day, according to local authorities.
According to a White House statement, US President Joe Biden offered additional support to respond to the devastating and historic wildfires burning in Canada in a call with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday. The US has so far deployed more than 600 firefighters and support personnel, and other firefighting assets to respond to the fires.
”This does not mean that the work to fight these fires and protect communities is over,” Mike Ellis, minister of public safety and emergency services, said during a news conference last Saturday, explaining that the wildfire situation remains serious despite improvements.
“We have the resources in place to protect the health and safety and well-being of Albertans without the extraordinary powers of the Emergency Management Act.”
The Environmental Impact of Wildfires
Wildfires release carbon dioxide and their emissions can prove to be significantly high. Particles from smoke and the burning of hazardous chemicals can also travel long distances, further reducing air quality and bearing multiple respiratory and cardiovascular ailments for humans and wildlife. For perspective, wildfires emitted 91 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in California in 2020 – 30 million more than the state’s power production emits on an annual basis.
Wildfires are also linked to water pollution. Forested water bodies account for 80% of the United State’s freshwater recourses and 3,400 public drinking-water systems derive from watersheds within national forests. With each wildfire, watersheds grow more vulnerable to stormwater runoff and erosion.
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