The Manhattan skyline on Tuesday
Photo: Matt Davies / dpa
Violent forest fires are raging in Canada, the consequences of which are now even being felt by people in New York: A yellowish-gray haze covers the northeast of the USA and hung over the skyline of the metropolis for most of the day on Tuesday. In the late afternoon, the smoke thickened and made the setting sun appear like a reddish ball.
Where is there a fire in Canada?
For several days there have been large-scale fires in the Quebec region. The forest fire control authority counted more than 150 fires in the province on Tuesday, of which more than 110 were out of control. Late Tuesday, authorities issued an evacuation order for Chibougamau, a town of about 7500 people in a remote region of the province.
The situation in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region is particularly worrying. There, in the municipality of Lebel-sur-Quévillon, about 2100 people had to leave their homes over the weekend. The mayor said the fire was about ten kilometers outside the village, but was progressing more slowly than expected. "We don't expect rain in the short term, which makes it difficult to fight the fires," Maïté Blanchette Vézina, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources and Forests, told reporters in Quebec City. The situation in the Abitibi region remains a cause for concern, while the number of evacuees across the province has fallen from 10,000 at the beginning of the week to just under 8300.
Already in May, there were fires in Canada, for example in the eastern province of Novia Scotia. Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed and thousands of people had to leave their homes. The fires caused a brief air quality warning in New Jersey and Pennsylvania on May 30.
Where is the smoke blowing?
The smoke from the Canadian fires has been drifting through the northeastern U.S. states for weeks, but some of it has only recently begun to be felt in most places. In the Great Lakes region from Cleveland to Buffalo, cloudy weather conditions were reported, in the Philadelphia area, dusk was in a lavender haze on Tuesday.
"It's not uncommon for us to get fire smoke in our area," Darren Austin, a meteorologist with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, told the AP news agency. The fires in Quebec are located relatively close to the U.S. East Coast, about 800 to 970 kilometers from Rhode Island.
The wind direction, which caused smoke and haze in New York, could remain in the coming days, said Jay Engle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton on Long Island. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the smoke will remain in the northern states for a few more days.
Is the smoke dangerous to health?
According to U.S. media reports, New York has since topped the list of places with the highest air pollution in the world – on Wednesday afternoon, the city was in second place behind Delhi on the index of IQAir, a company specializing in air surveillance. According to a report in the New York Times, New York Mayor Eric Adams warned that the air had become "very unhealthy" in parts of the city. In Canada's metropolises of Ottawa and Toronto, as well as in the US states of Minnesota and Massachusetts, authorities warned residents of bad air.
Doctors pointed out that the fine dust particles in the smoke could trigger an inflammatory reaction in the lungs. "We have defense mechanisms in our upper airways that trap larger particles and prevent them from entering the lungs. These particles are just the right size to overcome these defense mechanisms," pulmonologist David Hill told the AP news agency.
How should the people in the northeastern United States behave now?
The air quality warnings issued by the authorities are aimed primarily at "sensitive groups" such as children, the elderly or those with lung diseases such as asthma or COPD. Above all, these people are advised to spend little time outdoors and to pay attention to any symptoms. According to CNN, at least ten school districts in New York canceled all outdoor activities. As soon as you can see or smell smoke, you are exposed, William Barret of the American Lung Association told the station. "It's important that you do everything you can to stay indoors during these episodes of high air pollution."
According to doctors, anyone who is indoors should also keep doors and windows closed and set the air conditioning to recirculating air. If you are outdoors, you should refrain from gardening or sports, and it is sometimes advised to wear a high-quality respirator.
The organizers of the New York Marathon urged people in the affected areas not to participate in Global Running Day this Wednesday. The organizers of the U.S. professional league in baseball were exposed to great criticism: Despite the bad air, the New York Yankees played on Tuesday evening – in front of 38,049 spectators.