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U.S. skies in the Northeast and the Midwest are hazy with smoke from Canada

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We're going to start, though, with cities in the eastern U.S. from the Great Lakes to Boston - cities that have been blanketed with orange smoke flowing south from vast wildfires burning in Canada. The haze is so intense that people are being urged to stay inside or wear masks, and airlines are canceling some flights. Here's New York City Mayor Eric Adams.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC ADAMS: From the gloom over Yankee Stadium to the smoky haze obscuring our skyline, we can see it. We can smell it, and we felt it.

KELLY: NPR's Brian Mann joins us now from upstate New York, up near the Canadian border. Hey there, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So I know the governor of New York is calling this an emergency, a crisis. What else are you hearing?

MANN: Yeah, health officials are really worried. They're asking people with health conditions to remain indoors. New York urged schools to cancel all outdoor recreation because of this poor air quality. Of course, staying inside's just not possible for a lot of people. So if you do have to go outdoors - health officials saying you should use a high-quality mask, like the N95s we used during the pandemic.

KELLY: And just to remind everybody here, who exactly should be taking extra precautions?

MANN: Well, this isn't healthy for anyone, so this isn't a great time for outdoor exercise for all of us. But people with heart or respiratory issues, including asthma, are at really elevated risk - also the elderly and young children and pregnant women. As a result, a lot of outdoor public events have been canceled across the Northeast.

KELLY: Yeah, it is interesting. When I went for my run this morning, I could smell the smoke, and the skies have been gray all day. But the pictures from New York are something else - dark orange skies, people out in masks, as you said. What are people you talked to saying about just how it feels?

MANN: Yeah, it is nerve-wracking. This stuff is so thick, LaGuardia Airport issued a full ground stop for a while today because of low visibility. It's not the way we wanted to start summer. Our colleagues at WNYC caught up with Matthew Andalcio, a sanitation worker in Brooklyn.

MATTHEW ANDALCIO: Honestly, it's kind of hard to breathe with the air quality that's going on. But it's very, very scary, to be honest.

MANN: And I'm hearing this a lot from my neighbors here in northern New York, Mary Louise, especially my older neighbors. A lot of them feel trapped by this and unsettled.

KELLY: Sure. Just to remind - this smoke is all coming from Canada, from wildfires burning there. What do we know about how these fires started?

MANN: Well, it's been an extremely dry start to summer in the east. And over the weekend, there was a squall of storms in the province of Quebec. I spoke about this today with Scott McKim. He's a scientist who monitors air quality at a research station in New York's Adirondack Mountains. And he says that initial flare-up then followed with a huge burst of fires.

SCOTT MCKIM: A 5-, 6-hour window on Saturday produced over 200 fires based on lightning strikes. And then ever since then, those fires have been gaining an - almost up to a million acres now.

MANN: So now these wind patterns are sending a chimney of smoke that's just funneling across the eastern U.S. And McKim told me he's actually seen a spike in a substance called black carbon. He says it's unlike anything his station has ever recorded.

MCKIM: Typically, we see numbers in the tens of ranges. Yesterday, we hit 2,000 - just off the charts - and that's all transport of black carbon from fires hundreds of miles away.

MANN: So that kind of gunk and pollution from burning trees - that's what we're all breathing right now if we're not careful.

KELLY: And how long is this supposed to last, Brian?

MANN: You know, they're talking about it easing over the next few days as wind patterns shift, but probably no real relief until Saturday. U.S. fire crews are in Quebec right now, helping battle these blazes, but they're not going to be contained anytime soon. And one more thing officials are watching is - drought conditions are also severe on this side of the border, so fires are possible here as well.

KELLY: And briefly, what do we know about links to climate change?

MANN: Yeah, people are saying this is something that could be linked to climate change. In a tweet just today, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy described this moment as tangible, devastating evidence of the intensifying climate crisis.

KELLY: Thank you, Brian.

MANN: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Brian Mann reporting from northern New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.
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