Canada warns of record 2023 wildfire destruction as traveling smoke impacts millions of Americans
Canadian officials are warning that this year could be the country’s worst-ever in terms of wildfire destruction as millions of Americans are being impacted by smoke from the blazes that is drifting south.
There are currently 413 active wildfires across Canada, 249 of which are deemed out of control, according to Reuters.
“The distribution of fires from coast to coast this year is unusual. At this time of the year, fires usually occur only on one side of the country at a time, most often that being in the west,” the news agency quoted Michael Norton, an official with the Natural Resources Canada ministry, as saying.
“The rate of increase of area burned is also high… if this rate continues, we could hit record levels for area burned this year,” he added.
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As of Sunday, around 8.15 million acres have already burned in Canada, which is nearly 13 times the 10-year average, Reuters reports. It also said collectively the fires have temporarily forced more than 120,000 Canadians from their homes.
“Over the last 20 years, we have never seen such a large area burned so early in the season,” said Natural Resources Canada researcher Yan Boulanger.
Quebec is currently the hardest-hit province in Canada following a series of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes, according to Norton.
“This wildfire season has already been devastating for communities across the country. We’re taking action to keep people safe, to support those affected, and to make sure the provinces and territories have the assistance they need,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote on his Twitter account Tuesday.
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An interactive map from Natural Resources Canada says as of Wednesday, parts of Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia face the greatest fire risk.
The smoke from the fires in eastern Canada has drifted south into the northeast United States, prompting health alerts in New England and New York City.
On Wednesday morning, the Environmental Protection Agency is reporting that air quality in upstate New York, in cities such as Rochester and Syracuse, is “very unhealthy” and in some cases “hazardous.”
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It is warning the nearly 150,000 people living in the city of Syracuse to “avoid all outdoor physical activity” until conditions improve.
The EPA is also reporting “very unhealthy” air quality in parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland on the perimeter of the Washington, D.C., area.