Over 100 Million Affected By Canada Wildfires In North America

1 min read

The hazy skies that blanketed much of the US East Coast with a smoky, yellowish smog Wednesday — including New York City and Manhattan’s famed skyline — result from a highly unhealthy air quality event fueled by smoke drifting south from Canadian wildfires. More than 100 million people across the United States are breathing in the harmful particulates, and experts warn that it may be hazardous for children, older adults, and people with respiratory illnesses like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

A combination of factors led to the smoky conditions, including hot and dry weather, wind patterns, and a lack of rain. “It’s a good example of how complex the climate system is, but also how interconnected it can be,” says state climatologist Trent Ford in Illinois. A counterclockwise pattern of wind currents brought drier air from the Midwest over the fires in Quebec, and then the smoke was carried down to the northeastern United States by more northerly winds. The smoke from the Canadian wildfires has a long reach, with satellite images extending to cities as far away as Chicago and Indianapolis.

The fires in Canada have displaced over 20,000 people and scorched about 3.8 million hectares of land, roughly 750 square miles. It’s a record, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this is the worst wildfire season in recorded history.

In the heart of the catastrophe in Fort McMurray, Alberta — now a ghost town — a devastating wildfire swept through last year, killing 84 people and forcing thousands to evacuate their homes. The fires are being exacerbated by warm temperatures and unseasonably dry weather, which has created an abnormally early and intense start to the fire season.

Despite the devastation, local officials are optimistic that a weather shift is set to provide relief. The forecast shows a period of more remarkable, wetter weather moving into the Atlantic regions of Canada this weekend, and it could help put out the flames in some areas. Meanwhile, firefighting has been stepped up with firefighters arriving from the United States, Australia, South Africa, and France.

But this emergency should be a wake-up call, argues Salome Sane of Greenpeace Canada. She said the fires should prompt the Canadian government to hasten a divestment from fossil fuels. The reliance on such fuels drives the global climate crisis, making heat waves and droughts more severe and frequent. The burning of fossil fuels is also a significant contributor to these wildfires’ rapid expansion and speed, occurring earlier than usual due to climate change, researchers have warned. This is why a national plan for divestment from fossil fuels has been so long overdue.

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