The deployment of military personnel, aircraft and other resources comes as Canada struggles with wildfires that climate change has made more frequent, intense and far-reaching. Smoke from the fires turned the sky orange in parts of the U.S. East Coast last month, prompting local health authorities to issue air quality warnings and ask people, especially the most vulnerable, to stay indoors.
Parts of the U.S. Northeast, Midwest and South, as well as the Great Plains, were forecast to reach air quality levels Monday that are unhealthy for vulnerable people, including Pittsburgh, Chicago and Nashville, according to AirNow, a tracker maintained by a group of U.S. government agencies. Parts of Iowa and cities on the northeast border with Canada — including Cleveland and Buffalo — were expected to experience “unhealthy” air quality levels, according to AirNow. Louisville, the most populous city in Kentucky, was under an Air Quality Alert on Monday.
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In a Sunday statement, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said all of New York state would be under air quality health advisories Monday, with the most severely affected areas mostly in upstate communities.
“[I]f you start looking up tomorrow, you’re going to see a similar situation to what we had a couple weeks ago, because of the air quality degradation resulting from the wildfires in Canada. So, we’re going to have air quality issues once again,” she said during a Sunday news conference.
As The Washington Post has reported, wildfire smoke is a risk to humans because it contains small particles that can enter the bloodstream through the lungs and cause short-term respiratory issues. In extreme cases, the particles are linked to serious lung, brain and heart problems. Exposure to excess smoke can exacerbate existing health conditions such as asthma. And it’s more dangerous in certain groups, including elderly people, who are more likely to have vulnerable immune systems, and children, whose lungs have not yet fully developed.
Smoke to pour into Midwest as Canadian fires rage, lowering air quality
Officials have described this year’s wildfire season as unprecedented. As of late Sunday, there were 883 active fires across Canada, of which 581 were out of control, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center. Most of the out-of-control wildfires were in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec, according to agency data.
Two military reconnaissance teams were deployed to British Columbia on Sunday as part of the assistance authorized by Canada’s federal government, the Canadian Press reported, citing British Columbia’s Ministry of Emergency Management. A “land force team” is expected to arrive in Prince George, in central British Columbia, and an air force team in Kamloops, roughly 320 miles south of Prince George, the outlet said.
The military has been called in to help with wildfire management before, including in May, when members of the Armed Forces were deployed to Alberta in western Canada following a request for federal assistance from the province. That deployment lasted over a month, according to Global News Canada.
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The fires have strained the resources of provincial authorities and prompted Canada’s government to ask other countries to send help. Hundreds of firefighters from the United States, France, Australia and more countries have joined local personnel in fighting the fires in recent weeks.
A firefighter died of an injury sustained Saturday while combating a fire in the Northwest Territories, near the border with British Columbia, the local government said Sunday. The statement did not identify the firefighter or say how that person became injured.
It was the second death from the fires in just a few days. Devyn Gale, a 19-year-old member of the BC Wildfire Service, died Thursday while responding to a fire in southeastern British Columbia, authorities said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday that he was “incredibly saddened” to hear “that another firefighter has lost their life battling wildfires.”
I’m incredibly saddened by the news from the Northwest Territories, that another firefighter has lost their life battling wildfires. To their family, their friends, and those they were heroically serving alongside: Canadians are keeping you in our thoughts. We’re here for you.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) July 16, 2023
Bill Blair, Canada’s emergency preparedness minister, said the death “will be felt by the firefighting community in the Northwest Territories, and across Canada.”
“We must never forget the service and sacrifice of our first responders,” he said.
Amudalat Ajasa contributed to this report.