Western wildfire smoke drifting in from blazes raging in over a dozen US states has led to hazy grey skies in New York. The Air Quality Index in Manhattan surged to 157, which puts it in the ‘Unhealthy’ bracket. This puts the entire population of New York in the affected range and has triggered health warnings of emergency conditions.
These disturbing figures placed New York among the worst affected cities in the world. Other cities in the eastern parts of the US remain blanketed in a grey shroud from western wildfire smoke raging thousands of miles away in the west US. The AQI remains at three times the ideal conditions of below 50.
The haze is visible even from space carried by strong winds across the country. It is the worst since June 2006 when the AQI had touched the same levels. Relief might come in the form of a cold that could push out the cold, and rain which is expected this week.
The Department of Environmental Management in Indiana has instructed residents to cut down on outdoor activity this week. An increase in the level of fine suspended particles is predicted as a result of the western wildfire smoke, according to meteorological officials.
Fires Burning Violently In 13 States Causing Western Wildfire Smoke
The situation continues to be grim in the drought-hit western states with at least 83 major wildfires burning uncontrollably in 13 states. The fast-moving wildfires have forced evacuations in many areas including along the California-Nevada border.
Oregon is faced with burning forests that have led to emergency evacuation at 10 minutes’ notice as the fires spread uncontrollably. A total of seven large fires are active and have already burned over 467,000 acres, which officials say was unmatched in its intensity and dimension. Officials fear that only a major weather condition can control the intensity of the Oregon fire, called the Bootleg Fire after a creek nearby. The fire continues to burn ferociously on the Fremont-Winema National Forest. The Bootleg Fire merged with the Log fire on July 19th. This fire has been particularly intense and unpredictable and has ripped through a complete stand of trees.
The fire chief of Oregon, Mariana Ruiz-Temple termed the wildfires as historic and said that there has never been a similar scale of deployment of resources before. They have been mobilized to control six major conflagrations within three weeks. It is feared that between 50,000 and 100,000 more acres could be destroyed before the Bootleg Fire is brought under control.
Structures have been destroyed and power lines burnt leading to the deployment of the National Guard as the fires have scorched more than 600 square miles (1554 square kilometers). Around 1.35 million acres are under fire across 13 western states this week as per figures from the National Interagency Fire Center.
Over 20,000 personnel are on the ground battling to control the fire and evacuation of people affected. Officials say that they have been able to achieve only 32% containment, according to figures released by InciWeb.
Fire officials say that fresh warnings have been issued of potential fires in California, Idaho, the Northern Rockies, and Oregon. The Dixie Fire in California has already destroyed over 85,000 acres and is so intense that it generated a thunderstorm on its own.
Difficult terrain hampered containment measures in the initial stages of the fire believed to have been sparked by electric equipment.
The intense drought has led to a disruption in the local weather system and created a weather pattern of its own.
Campfires have been banned in state-managed forests and state parks situated east of IS 5. That effectively covers all parts of the state except the Willamette Valley and the Pacific coast.
Professor Greg Pope at the Montclair State University said that it was unusual to have a western wildfire smoke haze of this kind. The earth and environmental studies professor said that the Manhattan skyline was not visible from his New Jersey office, which was ‘unprecedented.’
The western wildfire smoke emanating from the multiple fires has entered Canada and blown east covering states like Minnesota in a haze of dangerous conditions. Sooty particles from wildfires get carried easily over long distances. These tiny particles have a diameter of fewer than 2.5 micrometers and remain suspended for long. Known as PM2.5, these particles enter deep into the respiratory tract and lungs and can cause a variety of health issues.
Meteorologist David Lawrence from the National Weather Service says that the volume of the western wildfire smoke is tremendous as a result of the large number of fires burning simultaneously. The large volume has caused the western wildfire smoke to remain dense even after traveling such a long distance.
For the second year running, wildfires in the western US have crossed over 2,000 miles to the east as the west continues to burn from severe temperatures and droughts that have been directly linked to climate change caused by humans.
Even though the western wildfire smoke is expected to clear temporarily in the eastern parts of the US, more wildfires are feared in the coming months in the western parts of the US and Canada. The conditions are living proof that no part of the world can remain unaffected by adverse climatic conditions in another part of the world.
Deadly Fires Becoming The New Normal
Western wildfire smoke is a living example that climate change is at our doorsteps. Ferocious and destructive fires have become frequent. Extreme weather conditions such as ice storms, high temperatures, and hard rain are evidence that climate change has come before timelines predicted earlier.
Rapid climate change has turned out to become a key factor in the intensity and spread of the western US wildfires and western wildfire smoke, creating drier and warmer conditions.
A study of conditions in the western US has shown that even a rise of 1C will increase the median area burned per area by 600% in certain forests. Over 80% of wildfires are caused by people. Studies in the Southeastern US have suggested a longer fire season and an increase in the fire risk. A 30% rise over 2011 figures has been predicted by 2060 in areas affected by wildfires ignited by lightning.