US cities shrouded in toxic haze as reinforcements reach Canada wildfires
WASHINGTON, June 8, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Smoke from Canadian wildfires
continued to shroud US cities in a noxious haze Thursday, forcing flight delays
and cancellations to outdoor activities as environmental groups called for
urgent action to tackle climate change.
Residents in the capital Washington awoke to an acrid smell and
orange-tinged skies, with the Environmental Protection Agency rating parts of
the mid-Atlantic region at "Code Maroon," the highest category of the Air
Quality Index, signaling hazardous conditions.
This made some parts of the United States among the most polluted in the
world, worse than cities in South Asia and China that normally dominate global
rankings, with the situation not expected to improve until the weekend.
"Today's air quality is extremely unhealthy," tweeted Washington's
Department of Energy & Environment, as the city advised residents to avoid
exercising outdoors, keep windows shut and use high-caliber masks.
The White House postponed an outdoor Pride event, though a parade and
festival this weekend remain on course now. The National Zoo meanwhile
announced it would close "for the safety of our animals, our staff and our
And the Washington Nationals, the capital's Major League Baseball team,
announced it was postponing its afternoon game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Hemadri Vora, a 42-year-old tourist from Mumbai, was spending the day with
her family in Washington after a visit to New York.
"It's a little disappointing," she said, though she was used to similar
pollution levels back home. "Obviously, the pictures are not going to be very
Public schools in the capital canceled all outdoor activities including
recess, physical education, athletic practices and competitions.
The Federal Aviation Administration meanwhile said low visibility had
forced it to take steps to "manage the flow of traffic safely into New York
City, DC, Philadelphia and Charlotte."
Environmental groups were quick to draw attention to climate change, which
is creating warmer, drier conditions that are increasing the risk and extent of
"This is the climate crisis, here and now, causing dangerous air pollution
and threatening the health of millions of people," said May Boeve, Chief
Executive of 350.org.
Her comments echoed UN chief Antonio Guterres, who tweeted: "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."
- 'Reminded me of 9/11' -
Skies were noticeably clearer in New York compared to the day before, even
as the air quality index remained high.
Officials handed out face coverings at train stations, bus depots and parks.
Linda Juliano, a 65-year-old secretary, gladly accepted one at Grand
Central station in Midtown Manhattan.
"I've never seen anything like it," she told AFP, describing the
sepia-tinged smog that engulfed New York on Wednesday as "scary."
"It reminded me a lot of 9/11, seeing the sky all smoky and everything,"
said Juliano, who kept the windows closed and the air conditioner on at her
home in Huntington, Long Island.
Meanwhile in Canada, pollution from wildfires is expected to peak Thursday
in Toronto, Environment Canada said.
With nearly 800,000 hectares (two million acres) affected, according to the
Society for the Protection of Forests Against Fire (SOPFEU), Quebec is
experiencing a historic season.
Twice as many blazes have been recorded this year compared to the average
over the past ten years.
On Thursday, the French-speaking province still had more than 150 active
fires, including nearly 90 out of control.
New reinforcements -- from the United States, France and Portugal -- are
expected in the hours and days to come. More than 12,000 people have been
evacuated within the space of a few days.
The situation remains worrying in several regions, explained Stephane
Caron, of SOPFEU.
"We are only at the very beginning of this fire season. We are now entering
the period when usually there are beginning to be larger fires in Quebec," he
The risk of a new outbreak is rated "extreme" by authorities in the western
part of Quebec.
These blazes are of high intensity and spread rapidly, and are therefore
very complex for firefighters to stop, officials say.