Fires in Canada continued Thursday, June 8, to carry their smoke to the northeast of the United States, an episode of rare air pollution that affects more than a hundred million Americans and is "a stark reminder of the consequences of climate change," according to Joe Biden.
Flights delayed due to low visibility, outdoor events cancelled, remote schooling... The episode has concrete consequences on the lives of the inhabitants.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, more than 111 million people were affected by air quality alerts across much of the northeastern United States. The region is unaccustomed to this type of smoke, unlike the American West.
Major fires occurred particularly early this year in Quebec, and their smoke is pushed directly south due to weather conditions.
In the capital Washington, the situation is Thursday even worse than Wednesday, the air pollution alert having passed a time to "purple", before being downgraded to "red" in the late afternoon. An event celebrating LGBT++ Pride Month, which was scheduled to take place Thursday night at the White House outdoors, has been postponed, as has a professional baseball game.
The concern mainly concerns the health of frail people, such as children, the elderly or those with heart or respiratory problems. Emergency room visits related to asthma attacks are on the rise in New York City, a spokesman for the city's health department said. But these "few hundred" patients do not overwhelm the services, he said.
Impressive images of New York City in orange light circulated Wednesday, though the sky was clearer Thursday. "I've never seen anything like this," said Linda Juliano, 65, accepting one of the millions of masks distributed to New Yorkers. "It reminded me a lot of September 11, to see the sky filled with smoke," she told AFP, judging the situation "scary".
Just like the one in Washington, the zoos in the Bronx and Central Park have been closed, and students in New York City public schools will take their classes remotely on Friday. At airports in New York (LaGuardia, Newark) or Philadelphia, flights suffered delays related to low visibility, said the Civil Aviation Agency, the FAA.
Global warming is exacerbating the risk and intensity of fires. The increase in temperature, the multiplication of heat waves and the decrease in precipitation in places represent an ideal combination for their development.
Although no study assessing the link between the current fires in Quebec and climate change has yet been conducted, "the conditions we see in Canada are consistent with the warnings of climate specialists," said Thursday Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general.
Citing both smoke from the fires and an upsurge in flooding across the United States, White House spokesman Andrew Bates blasted the Republican opposition for "adhering to conspiracy theories debunked, denying the existence and nature of climate change."
Joe Biden, who spoke Wednesday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, promised to help fight the fires. Canada's fire season this year, which is just beginning, will be "probably the worst in history" of the country, with "immense consequences here in the United States," the U.S. president said.
With nearly 800,000 hectares affected by the fires, according to authorities, Quebec is already experiencing a historic season. Twice as many fires have been recorded since January compared to the average at that time over the last 10 years.
On Thursday, the French-speaking province still counts more than 150 active fires, including nearly 90 out of control. New reinforcements - American, French, Portuguese ... - are expected in the coming hours and days.
The situation remains worrying in several regions, according to Stéphane Caron, of the Society for the Protection of Forests against Fire: "We are only at the very beginning of this fire season."
The risk of new fires are always significant: without the western part of Quebec, they are considered "extreme" by the authorities. These blazes are of high intensity and rapid spread, so very complex to stop for firefighters, they explain.
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