Wildfire Smoke Blots Sun and Prompts Health Alerts in Much of U.S. (2023)


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The smoke was pouring across the border from Canada, where hundreds of wildfires remain unchecked, and the hazardous smoke conditions are expected to linger through Wednesday and perhaps until later in the week.

Wildfire Smoke Blots Sun and Prompts Health Alerts in Much of U.S. (1)

By Jesus Jiménez,Derrick Bryson Taylor and Judson Jones

(Video) Wildfire Smoke Blots Sun and Prompts Health Alerts in Much of U.S.

An eye-watering and cough-inducing smoky haze from Canadian wildfires smothered a swath of the eastern and northern United States on Tuesday, with officials warning residents with health risks to stay indoors and keep their windows closed.

Health alerts were issued from New York to the Carolinas, and as far west as Minnesota. In New York City, the smoke could be tasted as well as smelled, and it wrapped the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and Manhattan’s other landmarks in a blanket of orange-gray haze.

IQAir, a technology company that tracks air quality and pollution, said New York’s air quality was among the worst in the world on Tuesday night; the city usually does not rank in the top 3,000. One fan at the game between the Yankees and the Chicago White Sox being played in the Bronx likened the experience to being inside “one of those old-school Weber grills,” although the game continued without interruption.

Smoke forecast




Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationNotes:All times are Eastern. Data is based on models and may underestimate smoke because of cloud cover or other obstructions. Contours show estimates of wildfire smoke near the surface.

The smoke was pouring across the border from Canada, where hundreds of wildfires remain unchecked, and the hazardous smoke conditions are expected to linger through Wednesday and perhaps until later in the week.

“It’s going to be here for a while,” said Bryan Ramsey, a National Weather Service meteorologist in New York. It is possible that conditions could ease on Wednesday, he said, before another blanket of smoke descends on the East Coast in the afternoon.

In North Carolina, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality said the state would be under Code Red or Code Orange air quality alerts through Wednesday because of the “rapidly rising levels of fine particle pollution attributed to smoke” from the wildfires. Officials are urging residents, particularly those with asthma, to stay indoors as much as possible.

In satellite images, the smoke appeared to be particularly thick over portions of Quebec, Ontario and New York.

The worst effects were in Canada, where more than 400 active wildfires were burning, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center, exacerbating an already active wildfire season that is expected only to worsen. More than 200 of the fires, many of them in Quebec, were burning out of control, the agency said. Toronto briefly ranked among the worst 10 cities in air quality on Tuesday.

(Video) Canadian Wildfire Smoke Blanketing Skies Across US Prompting Air Quality Issues

Canada wildfires



Source: Canadian Wildland Fire Information SystemNotes:Burned-area boundaries and hotspot locations are estimates based on satellite data, and hotspots indicate likely areas of burning detected within the previous two days.

An estimated 26,000 people across Canada had been evacuated as of Monday, Bill Blair, Canada’s minister of public safety, said at the news conference.

“The images that we have seen so far this season are some of the most severe ever witnessed in Canada,” Mr. Blair said.

Hundreds of soldiers were deployed across Canada to help with firefighting efforts. Many Canadians who had to evacuate in recent days had just a few hours to pack before fleeing their homes, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the news conference.

(Video) 'Wall Of Smoke': Wildfire Smoke From Canada Triggering Hazardous Air Quality For Millions Across US

“This is a scary time for a lot of people,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Mr. Trudeau said on Monday that forecasts indicated that “this may be an especially severe wildfire season throughout the summer.”

There have already been more than 2,200 wildfires in Canada this year, according to the country’s fire agency.

Though it is difficult to link any particular fire outbreak to climate change, a landmark United Nations report concluded last year that the risk of devastating wildfires around the world would surge in coming decades as climate change further intensified what the report called a “global wildfire crisis.”

As the air-quality crisis continues, older adults, children and people with heart or lung conditions, including asthma, will be especially at risk, officials warned.

The New York Road Runners, the organization that owns and stages the New York City Marathon, urged runners living in areas polluted by the smoke to consider not running on Global Running Day on Wednesday. Jennifer Stowell, a postdoctoral fellow at Boston University School of Public Health, who has studied the health effects of wildfires, told The New York Times in 2020 that wildfire smoke “may be more toxic” to the lungs than standard urban air pollution.

In Oswego, N.Y., on Lake Ontario, the smoke created a haze that settled over the city on Tuesday and gave the sky a yellowish tint most of the day. By evening, a steady breeze had picked up, but the smell of smoke was still detectable and the streets were mostly empty.

School districts in Oswego County canceled athletic events and outdoor after-school activities. The Oswego Little League said it was canceling all of its games out of an abundance of caution. Even a planned D-Day ceremony in the nearby city of Fulton to honor a soldier who received the Medal of Honor for his actions on June 6, 1944, was postponed.

Though the Yankees played on, their top minor league team canceled a home game in Moosic, Pa.

In Manhattan on Tuesday evening, some commuters were startled by smell.

At the subway station at West 86th Street and Broadway around 6:45 p.m., passengers trudged up the stairs and onto the street and gasped. The sky was a strange orange-gray, and the cool air smelled of smoke.

“This morning, it smelled like burnt toast, but now it’s more like campfire,” said Benjamin Lukas, 47, who was on his way to his mother’s apartment to cook her dinner. “It’s just wild.”

Mr. Lukas worried about his mother’s breathing — and hoped that she had her windows shut, despite the cost of air-conditioning.

For some New Yorkers, the news of the Canadian wildfires came as a surprise, even as they breathed in the smoky air. “That’s what this is?” asked Joe Lerner, as he waited for a crosstown bus. “I figured it was a building fire or something.” Already, he said, his throat felt a little sore.

Covid masks were suddenly in demand. On her way home from work on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Genevieve Cruz was making a quick stop into the CVS on Amsterdam Avenue, hoping the pharmacy was still selling masks.

“I used to have one on me all the time for Covid,” she said. “I can’t believe I don’t even have a single one anymore.”

(Video) NYC Mayor Warns Air Quality Unsafe Due to Canada Wildfire Smoke

Reporting was contributed by Kate Lowenstein, Ben Shpigel, Steve Kenny, Eduardo Medina, Scott Dodd, Jennie Coughlin, Felice Belman, Ashwin Seshagiri, Mary Suh, Ernesto Londoño, Ed Shanahan and Vjosa Isai

Jesus Jiménez is a general assignment reporter. @jesus_jimz

Derrick Bryson Taylor is a general assignment reporter. He previously worked at The New York Post’s PageSix.com and Essence magazine.

Judson Jones is a meteorologist and reporter for The Times, covering the most extreme storms across the globe. @thejudsonjones

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(Video) Wildfire Smoke Prompts Spare the Air Alerts

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What are the health effects of wildfire smoke? ›

For otherwise healthy people without pre-existing conditions, even brief exposure to wildfire smoke can lead to stinging eyes, irritated sinuses, wheezing, shortness of breath, headaches, itchy skin and coughing.

Why does the smoke from fires cause our sun and moon to appear more red in the sky? ›

In short: Smoke particles from the fires allow sunlight's longer wavelength colors, like red and orange, to pass through while blocking the shorter wavelengths, like yellow, blue and green.

Why is NYC air quality so bad? ›

It comes from sources like the combustion of fossil fuels, dust storms – and wildfires, meaning New York is now smothered in the pollutant. Heavy smog and low visibility in New Delhi, India, on January 9, 2023. New York's PM2.5 levels peaked Wednesday afternoon, measuring 303.3 micrograms per cubic meter.

What is the biggest health threat from smoke? ›

Exposure to PM2.5 from smoke or other air pollution, such as vehicle emissions, can exacerbate health conditions like asthma and reduce lung function in ways that can worsen existing respiratory problems and even heart disease.

Should you stay inside during air quality alert? ›

The best thing to do to protect yourself? Stay inside and take other precautionary steps to limit your exposure, experts say.

Does smoke make the sun brighter? ›

"When smoke is in the atmosphere, it not only makes the sun dimmer, it increases the amount and size of particulate matter in the atmosphere that absorbs more of the shorter wavelengths, leaving longer wavelengths to reach our eyes," he explained.

How does the sun get oxygen when it's on fire? ›

The sun does not run out of oxygen for the simple fact that it does not use oxygen to burn. The burning of the sun is not chemical combustion. It is nuclear fusion.

Why does smoke change the color of the sun? ›

Smoke particles also scatter light, and because they are larger than air molecules, they also scatter the orange and red colors. That results in far more red and orange in the sky than we are used to seeing during the daytime, imparting a surreal hue.

How do you detox your lungs from wildfire smoke? ›

Detox solutions can include:
  1. Drinking LOTS of Water.
  2. Drinking Hot Liquids.
  3. Using a Saline Nasal Spray.
  4. Rinsing Your Sinuses with a Neti Pot.
  5. Breathing in Steam with Thyme.
  6. Receiving a Vitamin Rich IV Drip.
  7. Loading Your Diet with Ginger.
  8. Increasing Your Vitamin C Intake.
Aug 31, 2020

How do you purify air from wildfire smoke? ›

Use an air purifier. Indoor air quality is affected, so consider using an air purifier for wildfire smoke. Air purifiers with sealed HEPA filters offer additional protection by trapping and sealing in particle pollution and projecting filtered clean air back into the room.

Does air conditioning clean air of smoke? ›

Set your air conditioning system to cycle fresh air

If you have forced air or a central heating and cooling system, keeping the air on will help recirculate the air and filter out the harmful particles in the wildfire smoke, according to Van Dyke.

Why is air quality worse in poor areas? ›

Low-paying jobs are more likely to require physical outdoor labor, leading to heightened exposure. Pollution sources, such as industrial plants or transport corridors, are disproportionately located in low-income neighborhoods.

Why does air quality get so bad? ›

Vehicle emissions, fuel oils and natural gas to heat homes, by-products of manufacturing and power generation, particularly coal-fueled power plants, and fumes from chemical production are the primary sources of human-made air pollution.

Is NY air quality better today? ›


The air quality is generally acceptable for most individuals.

What are 3 diseases caused by smoke? ›

Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Is it safe to sleep in a house after a small fire? ›

It is dangerous to sleep in a house after a fire, regardless of how small or big the fire was. The main source of danger during fire outbreaks is smoke, and smoke is usually produced whether the fire is localized or spread to the entire house.

Should you cover your mouth in a fire? ›

ROLL over and over and back and forth, covering your face and mouth with your hands (this will prevent flames from burning your face and smoke from entering your lungs).

Does N95 mask help with poor air quality? ›

N95 masks don't just protect against COVID, they also protect against pollution. According to Women's Health, those higher-quality masks can filter out the small particles associated with pollution.

Should I wear a mask outside air quality? ›

Health experts recommend wearing a mask for any prolonged period outside. Preferred masks include respirators and the same N-95 masks that many wore during the pandemic. Both can protect against fine particulate air pollution.

Is it OK to walk in unhealthy air quality? ›

Poor air quality, which refers to more polluted than clean air, can make outdoor exercise unsafe. It's not a good idea to do outdoor exercise in bad air quality when the quality is at an “unhealthy” level or higher. However, based on your health and other factors, it may be possible for you to exercise safely indoors.

What is worse for skin smoking or sun? ›

They found a greater odds ratio between tobacco, smoking and wrinkling showing that, although the sun can be bad for you, smoking is extremely bad for your skin.

Why does the sun look so red right now? ›

However, at sunset, light has further to travel through the atmosphere. The shorter wavelength blue light is scattered further, as the sunlight passes over a greater distance, and we see the longer wavelength yellow and red light. These effects are a cause of Rayleigh Scattering.

Does the sun get rid of smoke? ›

As wildfire smoke rises into the atmosphere, sunlight spurs chemical reactions that alter the smoke's original components (primary organic aerosols) and create new ones, so-called secondary organic aerosols, over the course of hours to days.

Will the sun ever stop burning? ›

Eventually, the fuel of the sun - hydrogen - will run out. When this happens, the sun will begin to die. But don't worry, this should not happen for about 5 billion years. After the hydrogen runs out, there will be a period of 2-3 billion years whereby the sun will go through the phases of star death.

Why don't I burn in the sun? ›

The skin pigment melanin is produced by special skin cells called melanocytes to protect the body from the damaging effects of ultraviolet light. Higher levels of melanin means less sunburn and less skin cancer.

How does the sun burn if there is no air in space? ›

The Sun does not "burn", like we think of logs in a fire or paper burning. The Sun glows because it is a very big ball of gas, and a process called nuclear fusion is taking place in its core.

What does a red sun in the morning mean? ›

A red sunrise can mean that a high pressure system (good weather) has already passed, thus indicating that a storm system (low pressure) may be moving to the east. A morning sky that is a deep, fiery red can indicate that there is high water content in the atmosphere. So, rain could be on its way.

Why do smokers look yellow? ›

Yellow Skin

Cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide, which displaces the oxygen in your skin, and nicotine, which reduces blood flow, leaving skin dry and discolored.

What is a red sun called? ›

By Aparna Kher. An orange or red Sun in the early morning or late evening is a sight to behold. The sky takes on these vivid hues due to a phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering.

Can lungs recover from wildfire smoke? ›

Impacts Beyond the Lungs

For people who may be concerned about their respiratory system, the good news is that the lungs of most healthy adults can recover fully from smoke damage, even in severe cases, according to Balmes. “It's similar to recovering from a severe bout of pneumonia,” he said.

How do you get rid of mucus in your lungs naturally? ›

[coughing] Breathe in slowly and gently through your nose, and repeat the coughing if you need to. So when it's hard to breathe because of mucus in your lungs, you have three things you can do to help move the mucus out: postural drainage, chest percussion, and controlled coughing.

What is the fastest way to clean your lungs from smoking? ›

Exercise Regularly

Exercise increases the amount of oxygen that gets delivered to cells and tissues throughout your body. Cardiovascular exercises like brisk walking, swimming, running, and cycling are ideal for helping to clear out your lungs after you quit smoking.

How do you disinfect air in your home? ›

Simple things you can do to improve your indoor air quality include: Reduce dust by vacuuming regularly and using a microfiber or damp cloth for dusting. Reduce humidity to avoid mold and mildew buildup and change appliance filters regularly. And make sure to test your home for dangerous gases like radon.

What can I boil to clean the air of smoke? ›

Add equal parts water and white distilled vinegar to a medium pot to boil, and reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes. The stringent vinegar neutralizes the air to remove the remaining odors.

Does boiling water help to purify air from smoke? ›

Unfortunately, boiling water does not clean the air on its own, nor will it help to reduce a bad smell in the house either. Unlike vinegar, boiling a pot of water will not lead to cleaner air. However, you can add herbs and essential oils which can help to purify air in the home.

Why should you not smoke in an AC room? ›

| Why You Shouldn't Smoke in an Air Conditioned Area. No. While air conditioners have filters designed to improve indoor air quality, the amount of pollutants released by a cigarette is so substantial, it rapidly coats an AC filter with residue. Filters need to be changed at least once a month.

Is it good to smoke in an AC room? ›

Do not smoke in the air-conditioned area. Make sure the occasional opening of windows to let fresh air replaces indoor air to reduce the accumulation of indoor air pollutants.

Can a window AC filter out smoke? ›

Window/wall units can be used when it's smoky if the outside air vent is 'closed', meaning only indoor air is recirculated. They should not be used when it's smoky outside and the outdoor air vent is 'open'. This vent may be controlled manually or through a 'fresh air' or 'ventilation' function in the unit's settings.

What city has the worst air quality on earth? ›

International site, IQ Air, showed New York City ranking first by quite a margin for worst air globally and it's back atop the list early Thursday. Detroit currently ranks 4th.

What town has the worst air quality? ›

Los Angeles air pollution. Los Angeles has the most contaminated air in the country. With a population of roughly over 10 million, the Los Angeles area is a large basin with the Pacific Ocean to the west and bounded prominently on the north and east by the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains.

What major city has the worst air quality? ›

Smoke from out-of-control wildfires in Canada has driven New York City to the top of the list of the cities with the worst air quality in the world. Air pollution can be extremely hazardous to ones health, especially over extended periods of time.

Is air quality better by the ocean? ›

Is Air Quality Better by the Ocean? While the air near the ocean can be cleaner than in other areas, that's not always the case. When we dump sewage and other pollutants into the water, it significantly impacts the coastal air quality.

How do you know if air quality is affecting you? ›

Occupants of homes with poor indoor air quality may complain of symptoms such as headache, eye irritation, fatigue, dry throat, sinus congestion, dizziness, and nausea. Because many illnesses can cause these symptoms, diagnosing sick building syndrome is difficult.

What two pollutants pose the greatest threat to human health? ›

For each of these pollutants, EPA has established national air quality standards to protect public health .Ground-level ozone and airborne particles are the two pollutants that pose the greatest threat to human health in this country.

Where is the best air quality in the world? ›

Cleanest air in the world in 2022

The cleanest air in the world is in Zurich. The pollution status is determined on the basis of average levels of PM2.5 measured over a period of 12 months. And this Swiss city obtained an annual value of 0.51 µg / m3, which makes it the lowest in the world.

Who has the best air quality right now? ›

Which is the cleanest country in the world?
#country2022 AVG. US AQI
2French Polynesia10
3U.S. Virgin Islands12
6 more rows
May 11, 2023

What happens when you inhale too much wildfire smoke? ›

Health problems related to wildfire smoke exposure can be as mild as eye and respiratory tract irritation and as serious as worsening of heart and lung disease, including asthma, and even premature death.

Why does wildfire smoke make me feel sick? ›

Fine particles are able to travel deeply into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs. Inhaling fine particles can cause a variety of health effects, including respiratory irritation and shortness of breath, and can worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease.

What are the symptoms of bad air quality? ›

People have also reported itchy skin, acne and rashes on their hands and face from poor air quality, she said. Long-term exposure can also cause wrinkles. “It's well known that air pollution can cause premature aging of the skin,” she said.

Can fire smoke damage your brain? ›

Key points. Wildfire smoke may increase the risk of depression, dementia, and violence. The most important way to decrease risk may be to decrease exposure. In times of high outdoor air pollution, reduce exposure by limiting indoor air pollutants.

How do you know if you inhale too much smoke from a fire? ›

Numerous signs and symptoms of smoke inhalation may develop. Symptoms may include cough, shortness of breath, hoarseness, headache, and acute mental status changes. Signs such as soot in airway passages or skin color changes may be useful in determining the degree of injury.

How do you breathe better in smoky air? ›

"Run the air conditioner to recirculate clean air, and avoid cigarette smoke or vaping," says Dr. Bhasin. "Do not burn anything in the home, including wood, gas stoves or candles." Dr. Cowl agrees and says air purifiers can be considered, as can personal respiratory protection.

Can wildfire smoke make it hard to breathe? ›

Wildfire smoke can make anyone sick, but people with asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), or heart disease, or who are pregnant and children and responders are especially at risk. Breathing in smoke can affect you right away, causing: Coughing. Trouble breathing.

Does wildfire smoke get into your house? ›

You should be aware that some of the smoke from outdoors can enter your home and make it unhealthy to breathe indoor air, too. If you are close to a wildfire, the fire itself, as well as heavy smoke and ash, can pose serious, immediate risks to your safety and health.

What should I drink after inhaling smoke? ›

Water helps flush these particles from your system. Ten, 8-ounce glasses of water is a good target in general. If you're detoxing, aim to increase this intake to 12 or 14 glasses. Drinking hot liquids can stimulate mucous and saliva, helping to eradicate contaminants.

How long do your lungs heal after smoking? ›

Your lung function improves within two weeks to three months after the last cigarette. During the first year after quitting, coughing and shortness of breath decrease, and your lungs become better at cleaning themselves to reduce the risk of infection.

How long does it take to get smoke out of your lungs? ›

What happens after smoking cessation
Time after last cigaretteBenefits
12 hoursYour carbon monoxide levels return to normal.
48 hoursYour sense of taste and smell start to improve.
2 weeks–3 monthsYour lung function starts to improve. You may find that you aren't as short of breath as you used to be.
7 more rows

What city has the worst air quality? ›

International site, IQ Air, showed New York City ranking first by quite a margin for worst air globally and it's back atop the list early Thursday. Detroit currently ranks 4th.

Is poor air quality making me sick? ›

According to the National Weather Service, exposure to air pollution could lead to headaches; irritated eyes and sinuses; fatigue; difficulty breathing; chest pains and asthma attacks; and irritated throats and increased coughing.

What are 5 poor air quality health symptoms? ›

Longer term, exposure to air pollution is associated with several chronic health conditions, including:
  • Severe asthma.
  • Preterm birth.
  • Heart disease.
  • Stroke.
  • Lung cancer.
  • Dementia.
  • Lower IQ in children.
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