Canadian Wildfires New York

New York City seen through a haze-filled sky from the Empire State Building observatory on Wednesday. Smoke from Canadian wildfires poured into the U.S. East Coast and Midwest on Wednesday, covering cities in an unhealthy haze, holding up flights at major airports and prompting people to fish out pandemic-era face masks. Yuki Iwamura/Associated Press

Wildfires that have been raging out of control in Quebec and Ontario have led to smoke-filled skies along the U.S. East Coast and Midwest, but air quality in Maine remained good Wednesday and should stay that way for at least another day thanks to a low pressure system that has been keeping the smoke at bay.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has been closely monitoring air quality in the Northeast and will continue to post daily updates on its website.

“With so many fires in Quebec, that smoke will likely continue to be an issue for a while. Once again this low pressure system is protecting Maine from the worst of it into Thursday. We are keeping an eye on the situation so please check back in the coming days,” Martha Webster, air quality meteorologist for the DEP, wrote in her daily report Wednesday morning.

Webster is in charge of updating air quality forecasts on a daily basis throughout the year so that the general public and people with respiratory conditions have accurate, up to date information.

News Center Maine

Webster also meets daily with other New England, New York and New Jersey weather forecasters and air quality experts to share information. Typically, the meetings take a few minutes, but Wednesday’s meeting lasted for about 35 minutes. Webster said there is deep concern about air quality in places like New York City.

“They were all saying how bad the smoke was. It caused a lot of discussion,” Webster said.


The Associated Press reported that pollution levels in central New York reached hazardous levels on Wednesday. NBC News reported on its Wednesday evening newscast that the skies over New York looked “eerie and apocalyptic.” NBC said that New York City on Wednesday had the worst air quality in the world. The air quality was so bad that Major League Baseball games in New York and Philadelphia had to be postponed.

Smoke from the Canadian wildfires was so thick that it held up flights at major airports, and prompted some people to use pandemic-era face masks, the AP reported.

Massive streams of unhealthy air extended as far as Virginia and Indiana, affecting millions of people in cities such as Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Buffalo.

News Center Maine

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Webster said she expects air quality to remain good throughout Maine on Thursday, but she was reluctant to look too far into the future. She said the Canadian wildfires will likely burn for at least a few more days and in that time a low pressure system that has protected Maine from the smoke could dissipate.


Webster explained that the low pressure system over Maine has been moving in a backward direction to the west pushing wildfire smoke away from the state. But there is a chance the smoke could move out to sea, swing north and recirculate back into Maine.


“If things change, we could be in the direct line of fire,” Webster said.

Webster encouraged Mainers to pay close attention to the DEP’s Air Quality Forecast site. The site contains information such as a hotline – 800-223-1196 – that provides up-to-date air quality information, a frequently-asked-questions link, updated reports on ozone and particulate pollution, and a color-coded health effects legend that describes air quality warnings in detail.

“We are just going to keep an eye on the situation,” she said. “If visibility is reduced, if you smell smoke, that is when you should take precautions.”

In New York City, people started wearing pandemic-era masks, a possibility if the smoke invades Maine. Webster said people who exercise outside might want to consider staying indoors if the smoke comes to Maine.

Smoke from wildfires in Nova Scotia drifted into Maine last week, prompting state officials to issue a health warning about poor air quality May 30-31.

Several fires have been burning for more than two days in Nova Scotia and the smoke moved into the Gulf of Maine, where winds began carrying smoke into Maine the afternoon and evening of May 30, the DEP said. Mainers may have noticed the odor of smoke, hazy skies and reduced visibility.


Mainers who are interested in finding out what the air quality levels are in their town or region they can visit the airnow website, a partnership of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, NASA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state air quality agencies.

AirNow is a one-stop source for air quality data. The recently redesigned site uses the U.S. Air Quality Index, a color-coded index designed to communicate whether air quality is healthy or unhealthy.

In its Wednesday forecast, the National Weather Service predicted that unhealthy air quality levels will persist through Thursday in major metropolitan areas such as Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Winds are expected to shift east pushing wildfire smoke into the interior Northeast and Ohio Valley on Friday.

The weather service said it is important for people in those areas to limit time outdoors because exposure to air pollutants can aggravate health problems such as asthma, heart disease and lung disease.

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