Wildfires burning across Canada have prompted evacuations, disrupted aviation travel, and caused apocalyptic, smoke-filled skies thousands of kilometers away from the blazes, affecting millions of people in North America.
Thursday, the National Weather Service in the United States expanded air quality alerts for the East Coast, from New England to South Carolina, and portions of the Midwest, including Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan.
Due to the high levels of fine particulates in the atmosphere, health officials in more than a dozen U.S. states have warned residents that spending time outdoors may lead to respiratory issues.
Since May, wildfires have been reported in nearly all Canadian provinces and territories, according to experts. This is the worst start to the wildfire season in Canadian history.
More than 400 wildfires are still blazing in Canada, particularly in the eastern province of Quebec, where, as of Thursday morning, approximately 150 fires were reported, and 13,500 people were forced to evacuate.
During an afternoon news conference, Quebec Premier Francois Legault stated that the situation was "stable" and that no fatalities or serious injuries had been reported.
However, he added that it would be several days before evacuees could return home.
"Despite the intensity of the flames, there have been no fatalities or serious injuries to date. This is paramount, so continue to exercise caution," Legault told reporters in Quebec City.
Unhealthy Air Quality
Wildfires have brought orange-tinged skies to major cities in Canada and the United States, including New York City, where dense smoke and smog obscured the skyline earlier this week.
On Thursday, New York City's air quality index (AQI) reached a reading of 178, making it once again the most polluted of any significant city in the world.
The AQI measures five main pollutants, including particulate matter produced by fires; readings over 100 are categorized as "unhealthy," and readings over 300 are categorized as "hazardous."
Several measurements in the Washington, DC, area exceeded 300 on Thursday morning, prompting local health authorities to declare a "Code Purple" to warn residents of "very unhealthy air conditions" caused by the wildfires.
"Smoke from Canadian wildfires is causing poor air quality in the Washington, DC metropolitan area and the northeastern United States. This issue is likely to persist or deteriorate through Friday, tweeted Mayor Muriel Bowser.
On Thursday afternoon, Alan Fisher of Al Jazeera reported from Washington, D.C., that "a milky haze" still hung over Capitol Hill.
"It will take several days before this begins to resolve. "It currently spans thousands of kilometers from Canada to South Carolina," Fisher stated.
On Thursday, the haze and poor visibility prompted aviation officials to suspend incoming flights from the northeast, mid-Atlantic, and Ohio to main airports in New York and Philadelphia for a second day. All flights destined for Newark, New Jersey's airport, were also delayed.
Due to the haze, the White House postponed its Pride Month event in Washington, D.C., and the Washington Nationals baseball team postponed its afternoon game, the latest sporting event to be impacted by the fires.
Peter Mullinax, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, predicts that smoky conditions will persist until Sunday when a new storm system will alter the predominant wind direction. It will also bring a likelihood of precipitation to areas of the United States approaching drought conditions.
"By the beginning of next week, when the southerly winds arrive and push the smoke further north and into the Atlantic, we will finally begin to see some relief," said Mullinax.
In the interim, US President Joe Biden stated that his administration was prepared to assist Canada in its fight against the fires.
The White House stated that more than 600 firefighters and other personnel had been dispatched to assist their Canadian counterparts in fighting the fires and that additional assistance was coming.
Biden stated, "Yesterday, I spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and offered any additional assistance that may be required to expeditiously extinguish these fires, particularly those in Quebec, which are having the most direct impact on American communities."