Western wildfires smoke destroys air quality far away on America's East Coast

2021-07-22 10:05:41 GMT2021-07-22 18:05:41(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

by Peter Mertz

DENVER, the United States, July 21 (Xinhua) -- America's beautiful landscapes and magnificent East Coast cities got blanketed by wildfire fallout this week, as haze and smoke from the west filled the country's skies from sea to shining sea.

ABC News reported Tuesday that smoke had "even reached New York City."

Indeed, the air quality index in New York City reached 130 Tuesday night and in Philadelphia 124 -- extremely high levels of pollution, according to Plume Labs, a France-based company that produces reports on air quality.

The famous Manhattan skyline was invisible from just across the Hudson River in New Jersey, where Montclair State University professor George Pope strained his eyes against a dense, fog-like veil of smoke. "Unprecedented," he told The Guardian.

The smoke had caused health problems and "residents of the northeast quadrant of the country who spent time outside this week may have experienced difficulty breathing and throat irritation," said AccuWeather, an American media company that provides commercial weather forecasting services worldwide, on Wednesday.


A total of 147 fires were burning across the country on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

"Due to the fact that smoke particles are small and light, they can be transported hundreds if not a few thousand miles away from their source," AccuWeather meteorologist Alex DaSilva said.

Oregon's Bootleg Fire, the largest raging one in state, began by lightening on July 6 and had become so large and hot that it had created its own weather system, meteorologists noted last week.

Bootleg is "causing winds that have further fanned its flames," a Tuesday article in the Guardian said. It scorched 394,407 acres (1,596.1 square km) Wednesday noon, an area that is actually about 20 percent larger than Los Angeles' 1,300 square km.

As of Wednesday, Bootleg's perimeter was only 32 percent contained with more than 2,250 firefighters on hand, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Bootleg "will continue to be extremely active with gusty winds and extremely dry fuels, and has significant acreage increase potential on the northern and eastern sides of the fire," the center said in an ominous observation.

By Thursday, "a steady rise in temperature is lasting through the weekend, as well as considerably drier conditions," which would make the situation much more dangerous, fire officials said.

Currently there are 83 "large" wildfires burning across 13 states, almost all in America's West, with some 20,000 firefighters battling the blazes that cover almost 1.3 million acres (5,260.9 square km) of land, according to the center.

The hardest hit has been the Pacific Northwest, where 16 large, uncontained fires burned in Oregon and Washington state alone. On Tuesday, officials temporarily closed all recreation and public access to state-managed lands in Eastern Washington due to fire danger.

In north central California, the Dixie Fire had torched 91,268 acres (369.3 square km) with 15 percent containment by Wednesday night and was threatening more than 800 homes and structures, according to CalFire.

Although Colorado has been largely spared the devastation it received in 2020 from record wildfires, in 2021, some seven wildfires that scattered across the state have burned around 30,000 acres (121.4 square km) thus far, and fire officials, fearing the worst is yet to come, have imposed fire restrictions across the state.

Last weekend, the smoke from the Pacific Coast hit the Denver metropolitan area, and on Monday, "460 flights were delayed and 10 canceled" at Denver International Airport "due to haze from wildfires," according to flightaware.com.

By Tuesday, hazy skies and plunging air quality struck the Midwest and the Great Lakes states, due to a "large area of high pressure sitting over the Rockies" that caused airflow from the Pacific Northwest to flow into western Canada and then down into the Midwest, the NWS reported.

By Tuesday night, the west's foul air had entered Gotham. New York residents woke Wednesday morning to an eerie red sunrise caused by smoke from the other side of the nation.

State officials in New York advised that pregnant women and the elderly should stay indoors and that healthy people might experience breathing difficulty, throat irritation, and runny noses when exposed to air this bad.


"Wildfires aren't just a West Coast climate problem. Smoky skies surrounding the Statue of Liberty creating unhealthy air quality as smoke gets transported thousands of miles east," San Francisco ABC7 meteorologist Drew Tuma posted on Twitter Wednesday, showing a picture of the Statue of Liberty shrouded in smoke.

Across the country, meteorologists tried to explain how so much smoke travelled so far, so fast.

"We are seeing a lot of fires producing a tremendous amount of smoke and by the time that smoke gets to the eastern portion of the country where it's usually spread out, there's just so much smoke in the atmosphere from all these fires that it's still pretty thick," said NWS meteorologist David Lawrence.

The smoke is getting transported across the country via the jet stream, the NWS Baltimore-Washington tweeted, adding that while most of the smoke is higher in the sky, some of it could make its way closer to the ground.

"Ordinarily, (the smoke) is not this thick and usually remains suspended at high altitudes, where it doesn't affect air quality at ground level," the Washington Post reported Wednesday. Enditem