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Canada fires: Millions breathing hazardous air as smoke spreads south into US

New York City is covered in haze as photographed from the Empire State Building observatory, Wednesday, 7 June 2023.
New York City is covered in haze as photographed from the Empire State Building observatory, Wednesday, 7 June 2023. Copyright AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura
Copyright AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura
By Angela Symons with APTN
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Smoke from Canada wildfires has prompted New York City to cancel broadway shows and flights.


Smoke from Canadian wildfires poured into the US on Wednesday, covering the capitals of both nations in an unhealthy haze.

Canada is experiencing its worst fire season ever. It started early on drier-than-usual ground and accelerated very quickly, exhausting firefighting resources across the country, according to fire and environmental officials.

Canadian officials asked other countries for additional help fighting more than 400 blazes nationwide that already have displaced 20,000 people.

Smoke from Canada's fires is seeping into the US

Smoke from the blazes in various parts of the country has been lapping into the US since last month. This intensified with recent fires in Quebec, where about 100 were considered out of control Wednesday.

The smoke was so thick in downtown Ottawa, Canada's capital, that office towers just across the Ottawa River were barely visible.

In Toronto, Yili Ma said her hiking plans were cancelled and she was forgoing restaurant patios, a beloved Canadian summer tradition.

“I put my mask away for over a year, and now I’m putting on my mask since yesterday," said the 31-year-old.

Flights at major airports along the East Coast and in the Midwest have been delayed. Major League Baseball games - including a Yankees game on Wednesday - have been postposed, and people have fished out pandemic-era face masks to protect from the smoke.

Air with hazardous levels of pollution extended into the New York metropolitan area, central New York state and parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, affecting millions of people. States as far south as North Carolina and Indiana have also been impacted.

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

The air quality index, a US Environmental Protection Agency metric for air pollution, exceeded a staggering 400 at times in Syracuse, New York City and Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. 

A level of 50 or under is considered good; anything over 300 is considered 'hazardous', when even healthy people are advised to curtail outdoor physical activity.

New York City mayor Eric Adams warned that "climate change accelerated these conditions,” and said it was an "urgent reminder" of the need to protect the environment.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
The sun rises over a hazy New York City skyline as seen from Jersey City, N.J., Wednesday, 7 June 7 2023.AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Canada's firefighting forces are stretched

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

Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre spokesperson Jennifer Kamau said more than 950 firefighters and other personnel have arrived from the US, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and more are due soon.

In Washington, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden has sent more than 600 firefighters and equipment to Canada. His administration has contacted some US governors and local officials about providing assistance, she said.

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

Canadians face evacuations as wildfires rage

Chibougamau, the largest town in Northern Quebec with a population of about 7,500, was evacuated on Tuesday. 


Eastern Quebec got some rain Wednesday, but Montreal-based Environment Canada meteorologist Simon Legault said no significant rain is expected for days in the remote areas of central Quebec where the wildfires are more intense.

US National Weather Service meteorologist Zach Taylor said the current weather pattern in the central and eastern US is essentially funnelling in the smoke. 

Some rain should help clear the air somewhat in the northeast and mid-Atlantic this weekend or early next week, though more thorough relief will come from containing or extinguishing the fires, he said.

Sporting events and flights have been impacted in New York

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

The Federal Aviation Administration paused some flights bound for LaGuardia Airport and slowed planes to Newark Liberty and Philadelphia because the smoke was limiting visibility. 


Smoke also contributed to delayed arrivals at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, where a heavy haze shrouded the Washington Monument and forced the cancellation of outdoor tours.

Major League Baseball put off games in New York and Philadelphia, and even an indoor WNBA game in Brooklyn was called off.

On Broadway, 'Killing Eve' star Jodie Comer had difficulty breathing and left the matinee of 'Prima Facie' after 10 minutes; the show restarted with an understudy, show publicists said. 

'Hamilton' and 'Camelot' cancelled Wednesday evening performances, with 'Hamilton' publicists saying the the deteriorating air quality “made it impossible for a number of our artists to perform.” In Central Park, the popular outdoor Shakespeare in the Park performances were put off through Friday.

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
Pedestrians pass the One World Trade Center, center, amidst a smokey haze from wildfires in Canada, Wednesday, 7 June 2023, in New York.AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

How have other US states responded to the fires?

Schools in multiple states cancelled sports and other outdoor activities, shifting break time inside. Live horse racing was canceled Wednesday and Thursday at Delaware Park in Wilmington. Organisers of Global Running Day, a virtual 5K, advised participants to adjust their plans according to air quality.


New Jersey closed state offices early, and some political demonstrations in spots from Manhattan to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, were moved indoors or postponed. Striking Hollywood writers were pulled off picket lines in the New York metropolitan area.

The smoke exacerbated health problems for people such as Vicki Burnett, 67, who has asthma and has had serious bouts with bronchitis.

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

Still, she stressed that she's concerned for Canadians, not just herself.

“It’s unfortunate, and I’m having some problems for it, but there should be help for them,” she said.

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