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Record-breaking wildfires in Canada are impacting air quality in the U.S.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If you live in the Northeast U.S., then today you probably woke up to hazy skies. That's because of wildfires burning in eastern Canada, including around 150 fires in Quebec alone. Reporter Emma Jacobs joins me from Montreal. Hey there.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: Hi. So tell me, how bad are the fires right now in Canada? What's their impact there?

JACOBS: It's bad. Like the U.S., Canadians have been waking up to orange, hazy skies in big cities like Ottawa and Toronto. Here in Montreal, you've been able to smell the fires for several days, though actually, images from New York look worse right now. Many people have had to be evacuated from their homes - in Quebec alone, around 15,000. Some of those evacuees live in pretty remote areas. Police have been out on the roads along the evacuation routes with gas cans in case evacuees ran out on the way. The province doesn't have the resources to fight all the fires burning right now. They can only fight around 40 at a time. And we have about 150, as you said. So responders have focused their resources around protecting communities and infrastructure.

KELLY: And is more help on the way?

JACOBS: As French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted this week, reinforcements are coming. Right now, there are about 670 personnel from Quebec and the Canadian military on the ground. The head of the provincial government, Premier Francois Legault, said today that they're hoping to receive more firefighter reinforcements.

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FRANCOIS LEGAULT: We hope to have more than 500 in the next few days coming from New Brunswick, France, United States, Portugal, Spain and Mexico.

JACOBS: But fires have been unusually bad all across Canada this spring, so there's a lot of demand even for the same equipment. Quebec had additional water bombers on loan from Newfoundland, but they had to be returned home because that province had its own wildfires to deal with.

KELLY: That sounds really bad, and so early in the fire season. I do want to ask, do we know what the role of climate change may be in these fires?

JACOBS: Climate change means more hot and dry conditions that can feed more extreme fires. A lot of records broke this spring. Quebec has already had the worst year on record in terms of area burned, and it is early. Projections show that fire risk remains high into the normal wildfire season for most of Canada. That's the rest of June, July and August. Another worrying aspect of this is that climate change not only makes these fires worse, but they contribute to climate change.

KELLY: Yeah.

JACOBS: Mike Flannigan is a researcher at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia. He said the boreal forests in Canada are a huge carbon sink.

MIKE FLANNIGAN: This is fast or legacy carbon that's been building since the last ice age. That fire can (ph) - goes through and can put that carbon back into the atmosphere in one big blast, which will feed the warming. So it's kind of a positive feedback, a cascading effect that may be coming into play.

JACOBS: He told me people can play a role in helping the situation. About 50% of wildfires in Canada are caused by humans. He also says firefighting resources should be deployed more strategically to prevent the small percentage of really massive fires that burn most of the area.

KELLY: That is reporter Emma Jacobs in Montreal. 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.

Emma Jacobs
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