As pretty much any resident of the western United States and Canada can attest, one of the worst things about wildfires is the smoke. It’s gloomy, poisonous, and downright icky. It jeopardizes a lot of simple joys, from opening a window to let in fresh air, going for a long walk, playing in the fountain at the park, or attending an event such as a outdoors concert or baseball game.
For much of the past decade, cities in the Pacific and Mountain timezones have put up with an increasing amount of toxic, nightmarish, smoky weather.
We’ve watched as some of our best weather weeks, especially in late summer or early fall, have been effectively lost to smoke emanating from massive wildfires burning through the forests and grasslands of the West.
We’ve curtailed our outdoor activities and filled our homes with air purifiers. We’ve learned how to measure air quality and interpret smoke forecasts. We’ve begged our elected officials to raise more resources in to address climate crisis and combat wildfires that get deadlier and more destructive every year.
East Coasters have in the past largely been spared from these miserable experiences. National media have occasionally reported on what’s happening out West, but it hasn’t pervaded the public consciousness of society on the other coast in the way that it has here. At least, not until this week, when nasty, toxic smoke from wildfires burning in Canada arrived in the Mid-Atlantic region, sending air quality in cities like Philadelphia and New York to dangerously low levels.
“The smoke from wildfires hundreds of miles north that turned New York into a scene of unsettling gloom on Wednesday arrived as if from a burning building blocks away, draping the city in a thick and otherworldly orange-gray hue,” wrote The New York Times’ Michael Wilson, assessing the apocalyptic scene.
“In the air hung the acrid smell of a campfire. Not fog, not mist, not really weather at all — this was something new to even veteran New Yorkers.”
“Automobile headlights flipped on midday, as drivers struggled to see. Streetlights lit automatically. Busy summertime sidewalks, their noontime shadows blurred out, gradually emptied. A woman leaving a grocery store stopped and pointed her phone’s camera toward the blotted-out sky.”
“Mayor Eric Adams, at a news conference, gave voice to the way many New Yorkers likely felt when they stepped outside: ‘What the hell is this?’ ”
Welcome to our world, East Coasters. Welcome to our world.
This is what we’ve been suffering with on about a semiannual basis for several years now. We empathize with your predicament. We’ve been there, way too many times. It sucks. The smoke is not only bad for your physical health, it also takes a negative toll on your mental and emotional health as well.
Know that it will pass, eventually. You’ll see clearer skies again and breathe cleaner air. But you’re going to have to get through an unpleasant stretch first.
“Zero shade for the New Yorkers dealing with this — it’s awful — but it’s wild to see the way East Coast media is suddenly doing wall-to-wall coverage of something that’s been reality on the West Coast for a decade,” noted Rachel Alexander.
“Getting texts and DMs from friends and reporters like: so sorry we didn’t realize how bad the fires were for you guys these past 5 years,” tweeted Clara Jeffrey.
“My family out west is compassionate but absolutely notices how different the wildfire smoke is being covered today now that it has hit NY/DC than it is every effing year back home,” tweeted Sarah Mimms, a deputy editor for NBC.
Yep. That’s East Coast media bias for you.
Here’s some advice from westerners on managing the smoke:
- Avoid exercising outdoors. Go to the gym instead, or do exercises at home. Breathing that toxic air is really bad for you!
- Download the IQAir app for your mobile device so you can track conditions in your area. You can also use their website. For example, here’s the page for New York City, which right now has the world’s worst air quality.
- If you haven’t invested in an air purifier with a HEPA filter for your home, now would be a really good time to do so. The NPI team recommends the Coway Mighty or Coway Airmega; you can get it from trusted vendors like Sylvane. Wirecutter has consistently found Coway’s products to be more effective than the competition’s.
- You should also stock up on masks with effective filtration and wear them for when you do go out. They offer protection against diseases like COVID as well as smoke. You can get made in the USA N95s from companies like DemeTech. If you want a more advanced mask that’s washable and reusable, try the Happy Mask Ultra series, which our staff use.
- If you live in an older building, try applying painter’s tape to doors and windows that are not well sealed. It’s removable and should come off cleanly later. This will help you get more benefit from your air purifier.
“Canada could exceed the largest total amount of burned area recorded in this country in a single year,” The Canadian Press reported.
“Natural Resources Canada released updated data and forecasts Monday showing that, as of June 4, there had been 2,214 wildfires across Canada this year, and about 3.3 million hectares burned. The ten-year average over the same timeframe is 1,624 fires and 254,429 hectares burned.”
“The department said it is unusual to have blazes across most of the country this early in the wildfire season, and that Canada could pass the annual record for burned area if the current rate of fire activity continues.”
In Washington, D.C., President Biden spoke by telephone with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the fires. The U.S. is sending more firefighters north of the border to help Canada attack the out of control blazes.
“President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada today to offer additional support to respond to the devasting and historic wildfires burning in Canada,” said the White House in a readout of the conversation.
“The President has directed his team to deploy all available Federal firefighting assets that can rapidly assist in suppressing fires impacting Canadian and American communities. To date, the United States has deployed more than 600 U.S. firefighters and support personnel, and other firefighting assets to respond to the fires. The two leaders also discussed continued cooperation to prevent wildfires and address the health impacts that such fires have on our communities. They agreed to stay in close touch on emerging needs.”
“Hundreds of American firefighters have recently arrived in Canada, and more are on the way,” said Trudeau. “On the phone today, I spoke with President
Biden about this critical support – and I thanked him for all the help Americans are providing as we continue to fight these devastating wildfires.”
“We’re seeing more and more of these fires because of climate change. These fires are affecting everyday routines, lives and livelihoods, and our air quality. We’ll keep working – here at home and with partners around the world – to tackle climate change and address its impacts,” the Prime Minister added.
“Wide swaths of the U.S. are feeling impacts from Canadian wildfires. As Oregonians know all too well, large wildfires are huge threats to air quality — and I hope this finally shines a national spotlight on an issue folks in my state have faced for years,” tweeted Senator Jeff Merkley.
We agree. Let’s hope this experience prompts members of Congress from eastern states to care more about addressing the threat of wildfires in the future.