Wildfires impact air quality levels in region; 'code orange' issued


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Mar 28, 2023

Wildfires impact air quality levels in region; 'code orange' issued

Staff writer CIRA/NOAA via Associated Press In this GOES-16 GeoColor satellite

Staff writer

CIRA/NOAA via Associated Press

In this GOES-16 GeoColor satellite image taken Monday, June 5, 2023, at 7 p.m. EDT and provided by CIRA/NOAA, smoke from wildfires burning in Quebec, Canada, top center, drifts southward.

Wildfires burning in Canada have created hazardous air quality conditions in the greater Pittsburgh region.

Smoke from the wildfires in eastern Canada, including Nova Scotia, led the state Department of Environmental Protection to issue a "code orange" air quality alert through Tuesday night for several Pennsylvania counties, including Washington and Fayette, signifying unhealthy air pollution concentrations.

At-risk populations, such as young children, the elderly or those with lung and heart disease or other respiratory conditions, should avoid the outdoors and strenuous activity, according to the advisory.

"RAP Smoke model show relatively high concentrations of near-surface smoke from the Canadian wildfires will continue to move southward into this part of the country over the next couple days," the National Weather Service Pittsburgh tweeted late Monday.

People also are encouraged to reduce or eliminate fireplace and wood stove use, avoid open burning and avoid using gas-powered lawn equipment.

Canada is experiencing one of the worst starts to its fire season ever recorded. In total, more than 3.6 million acres have burned in 2,270 fires in Canada so far this year, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. As of Tuesday, 415 wildfires were burning, with 241 of those fires burning out of control.

Thousands of Canadian residents have been forced to evacuate, and hundreds of homes and buildings have been destroyed by the spring wildfires.

Air pollution from wildfires is a growing health risk, according to the American Lung Association. Fine particulate matter found in wildfire smoke can be extremely harmful to the lungs, triggering asthma, heart attacks, and strokes and increasing the risk of lung cancer and other chronic lung diseases.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with partner agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, maintains an interactive map of air quality data called AirNow, https://www.airnow.gov, which enables users to see the locations of active fires and assess local conditions and risks.

Also Tuesday, the NWS Pittsburgh and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources issued an alert for an elevated risk of wildfires for several counties in Western Pennsylvania, including Washington, Fayette and Greene counties.

Dry conditions and low humidity, coupled with high winds are creating higher risk of brush fires. Residents can take steps to reduce risk, such as using caution with cigarettes and matches, and being careful when using machinery or equipment that can ignite.

Staff writer

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