Millions of people are breathing hazardous air because of smoke from Canadian wildfires

NEW YORK (AP) — Smoke from Canadian wildfires has poured over the U.S. East Coast and Midwest On Wednesday, an unhealthy haze shrouded the capitals of both countries, grounded flights at major airports and postponed major league baseball games. And the pandemic is prompting people to fish for masks.

Canadian officials asked other countries for additional assistance More than 400 people are battling the blaze across the country, which has already displaced 20,000 people. Air containing hazardous levels of pollutants spread across the New York metropolitan area, central New York state, and parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Unhealthy air spread as far as North Carolina and Indiana, affecting millions of people.

“I can taste the air,” Dr. Ken Strump said in a Facebook post from Syracuse, New York, which was covered in an amber tooth. The smoke, he later said on the phone, even made him a bit dizzy.

The air quality index, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency metric for air pollution, exceeded 400 at times in Syracuse, New York City and Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. A level of 50 or less is considered good; Anything above 300 is considered “dangerous,” and even healthy people are advised to limit outdoor physical activity.

In Baltimore, Debbie Funk dons a blue surgical mask as she and her husband, Jack Hughes, take their daily walk around Fort McHenry, a national monument overlooking the Patapsco River. The wind hung thick over the water, obscuring the horizon.

“I walked out this morning and it was like a smoke,” Funk said.

Canadian officials say it’s shaping up to be the nation’s worst wildfire season. It started in drier-than-usual ground and accelerated very quickly, exhausting firefighting resources across the country, fire and environmental officials said.

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Smog from burning parts of the country has been drifting into the US since last month, but has been exacerbated by recent fires in Quebec, where about 100 people were thought to be out of control on Wednesday – which happened to be National Clean Air Day in Canada.

The smoke was so thick in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa that the office towers across the Ottawa River were barely visible. In Toronto, Yili Ma said her hiking plans have been canceled and she’s giving up Canada’s beloved summertime tradition of restaurant patios.

“I put my mask on for over a year and now I’ve been wearing it since yesterday,” lamented the 31-year-old.

Quebec Premier François Legault said the province currently has the capacity to fight about 40 fires — and regular reinforcements from other provinces have been strained by the outbreaks in Nova Scotia. and elsewhere.

More than 950 firefighters and other personnel have arrived from the United States, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, with more arriving soon, said Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center spokeswoman Jennifer Kamau.

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden has sent more than 600 firefighters and equipment to Canada. He said his administration has contacted some U.S. governors and local officials about providing aid.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter that he had spoken to Biden by phone and thanked him for “all the help Americans are providing as we continue to fight these devastating wildfires.”

Northern Quebec’s largest town — Chibougamau, population about 7,500 — was evacuated Tuesday, and about 4,000 residents of the northern Cree town of Misticini may have to evacuate Wednesday, Legault said. But later that day, Mysticini Chief Michael Bedawapano said his community was safe and asked residents to wait for instructions from Cree officials.

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Eastern Quebec received some rain Wednesday, but Montreal-based Environment Canada meteorologist Simon Legault said significant rain is not expected for several days in remote areas of central Quebec where wildfires are most prevalent.

Zach Taylor, a meteorologist with the US National Weather Service, said the current weather pattern in the central and eastern US is essentially a smog. Some rain will help clear the air somewhat in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic this weekend or early next week, though more complete relief will come from containing or extinguishing the fires, he said.

New York Governor Cathy Hochul said 1 million N95 masks will be available at government facilities. New York City closed beaches, and Mayor Eric Adams told residents to stay indoors as much as possible as smoke billowed from the skyline. Zoos in the Bronx and Central Park closed early and brought their animals inside.

The Federal Aviation Administration grounded some flights to LaGuardia Airport and slowed flights to Newark Liberty and Philadelphia because the smoke limited visibility. It also contributed to delays at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, where heavy fog covered the Washington Monument, forcing the cancellation of outside tours.

Major League Baseball suspended games in New York and Philadelphia, and even a WNBA game in Brooklyn.

On Broadway, “Killing Eve” star Jodie Comer had trouble breathing and left the “Prima Face” matinee after 10 minutes; The show resumed with a reduced course, show promoters said. “Hamilton” and “Camelot” canceled performances Wednesday evening, with “Hamilton” promoters saying worsening air quality “made many of our artists unable to perform.” In Central Park, the popular outdoor Shakespeare in the Park performances were postponed until Friday.

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Schools in several states canceled sports and other outdoor activities, moving recess inside. Live horse racing Wednesday and Thursday at Delaware Park in Wilmington has been canceled. Organizers of Global Running Day, a virtual 5K, advised participants to adjust their plans according to air quality.

New Jersey closed government offices early, and some political demonstrations were moved indoors or postponed in places from Manhattan to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Striking Hollywood writers are on picket in the New York metropolitan area.

The smoke exacerbated health problems for people like Vicky Burnett, 67, who has severe bouts with asthma and bronchitis.

After walking her dogs Wednesday morning in Farmington Hills, Michigan, Burnett said, “I came in and started coughing and jumped back into bed.”

However, he insisted that he was concerned not only for himself but also for Canadians.

“It’s unfortunate and I have some issues with that, but they have to have help,” he said.

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Gillis reports from Toronto. Associated Press reporters Randall Chase, Dover, Delaware; Michael Hill in Albany, New York; David Koenig in Dallas; Amir Madani in Washington; Brooke Schultz in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania; Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Leah Skeen in Baltimore; Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York; Ron Todd in Philadelphia; Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan; and Ron Blum, Mark Kennedy, Jake Offenharts, Karen Matthews, and Julie Walker in New York.

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This story corrected information about the forecast for rain in Quebec to Montreal-based Environment Canada meteorologist Simon Legault, not Quebec Premier François Legault.

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