CHENANGO COUNTY – Due to wildfires in Canada, Chenango County has seen hazy skies since Tuesday.
County officials advise the community, especially those with upper respiratory issues, to avoid exposure to the air, and the smoke could potentially get worse on Wednesday.
On Wednesday afternoon Chenango County officials raised the air quality marker to "hazardous."
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) issued an air quality health advisory beginning Tuesday afternoon until midnight on Wednesday. The National Weather Service (NWS) reported smoke, specifically from wildfires in Quebec, to be present until Thursday or Friday, said Stephen Cady, Norwich’s Emergency Management Office Director.
Smoke from wildfires in Canada traveled through the jet stream and over the Southern Tier across New York State and into the lower parts of the U.S., said Matthew Beckwith, Chenango County’s Fire Coordinator.
“It does stink, you can smell it and it is hazy,” he said. “This is traveling all the way from Canada, so it’s hard to tell exactly what’s in the air at this point.”
According to the NYSDEC, overall air quality has been “unhealthy for sensitive groups” since Monday night in Central New York. This includes people with heart or lung disease, children and older adults, AirNow, a site run by government agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, lists on its site.
Beckwith advised sensitive groups to limit outdoor exposure and keep windows and doors closed. Cady also recommended wearing a face covering to help filter some of the air if going outside is unavoidable.
Although Beckwith said he hasn’t heard of any reported issues, he urged those who might experience difficulty breathing to seek medical attention.
“I’m concerned for people that have upper respiratory issues,” Beckwith said. “They could have some additional irritation, so just closely monitor.”
On Tuesday night, air quality reached “unhealthy” and just above the “very unhealthy” threshold, AirNow reported in its database. These levels increase health effects for everyone, and long or strenuous outdoor activities should be avoided, Airnow suggests.
By the end of May, wildfires burned almost 800 square miles of land in Canada, which is 13 times the 10-year average for that time of year, NASA said in a news report. While most fires in May raged across western Canada, NASA said eastern areas like Nova Scotia experienced “unusually large” wildfires in the last days of May and into June. Canada faced “an unusually intense start” to its wildfire season, NASA said in another news report on www.nasa.gov.
Aside from smoke from local fires, Beckwith said he doesn’t recall an event like this happening before. Beckwith and Cady said their department will watch for further warnings from the NYSDEC and NWS.
“People were alerted, and those fires have been going on for quite a while now,” Cady said. “And it’s just a weather phenomenon that we don’t normally see.”