Wildfire Affects Air Quality in Eastern Canada and USA Cities

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Canada has roughly 8000 wildfires annually and, on average, burns 2.5 million hectares yearly. According to the Canadian Red Cross, their wildfire season starts from April to September.

But this year’s wildfires that began around late April have continued to grow over the past six weeks. As of early June, the fires have grazed about 3.3 million hectares, already surpassing their yearly average, a month in their fire season.

The fires have prompted mass evacuations, and if it continues to spread, the country is on track to have this fire season as its most devastating event in history.

An update from ABC News shows that as of 8 June 2023, the wildfires have burned 3.5 hectares, with firefighters struggling to put out the fires.  

Smoke from wildfires in eastern Canada has moved across large portions of the United States, affecting the air quality for millions across the East Coast.

Thick smoke smothered New York and blanketed its skyscrapers as its skies turned orange, triggering air quality alerts in the city. On 7 June 2023, the city had the worst air quality rating of any major city in the world because of the wildfire smoke descending upon it. Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio, are also cities with low air quality, according to AirNow, a website that publishes air quality data.

On 8 June, air quality alerts have also been issued in 20 states from Missouri to Massachusetts, according to ABC News (Jacobo, Golembo, et al.). But by Friday, New York’s Air Quality Index (AQI) levels will go down as the forecasted rain scrubs toxic fumes from the air, while smaller smoke plumes will linger from Detroit to Pittsburgh to D.C., the article says.

The smoke originated from the wildfires in Quebec from the more than 160 burning forest fires captured by NASA’s satellite on 3 June. The agency says that some fires have been sparked by lightning.

Severe wildfires are prompting questions about how much of a role climate change plays in the event.

According to the National Park Service, 85% of wildfires in the United States are started by humans. Although some are caused intentionally, the majority are often caused by accidents such as campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, negligently discarded cigarettes, and others.

Much of Canada, like the rest of America, has recently experienced record heat and drought as climate change is causing temperatures to rise.

In 2021, temperatures in Lytton, British Columbia, reached 49.6 degrees Celsius, its hottest day on record.

Edward Struzik, a fellow at Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen’s University in Canada and author of “Dark Days at Noon, The Future of Fire”, told CBS News, “The fires season is also lasting longer now because of climate change. Spring is coming weeks earlier, and fall is coming weeks later. More time for the fires and grasslands to burn” (Korte, 2023).

Struzik adds that the jet stream, which creates weather and moves it from the west to the east, is weakening. Its strength relies on the temperature difference between the Arctic and the South. “Now that the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world, the jet stream is weaker, a little wonkier. That’s one reason why we see hot, dry weather systems stall, allowing heat domes to build and set the stage for fire,” he said.

According to EPA, climate change will also worsen air pollution due to rainfall and weather pattern shifts that can raise air pollutants like ozone or particulate matter. These air pollutants are caused by a chemical reaction when emissions from cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, and other sources react with sunlight.

Actions to reduce GHG emissions can mitigate these impacts from high heat, prolonged droughts, wildfires, and the worsening air pollution it is causing.


Wildfires: Information & Facts. (2023). Canadian Red Cross. Retrieved from https://www.redcross.ca/how-we-help/emergencies-and-disasters-in-canada/types-of-emergencies/wildfires/wildfires-information-facts

Periera, I, Grant, T., & Shapiro, E. (2023, June 8). Wildfire smoke and air quality live updates: Northeast flights disrupted. ABC News. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/US/live-updates/wildfire-smoke/?id=99885122

Korte, C. (2023, June 8). How did the Canadian wildfires start? A look at what’s driving the fires that covered the East Coast in smoke. CBS News. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-did-the-wildfires-in-canada-start-cause-nova-scotia-quebec/

Jacobo, J., Golembo, M. & Peck, D. (2023 June 9). Wildfire smoke map: Forecast shows which US cities, states are being impacted by Canadian wildfires. ABC News. Retrieve from https://abcnews.go.com/US/wildfire-smoke-map-us-cities-states-impacted-canadian/story?id=99865946

Zee, G., Ebbs, S., Golembo, M., Gewecke, K., & Manso, D. (2023, June 8). How Canada’s wildfires and air quality warnings are connected to climate change. ABC News. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/US/canadas-wildfires-air-quality-warnings-connected-climate-change/story?id=99905554

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