Wildfires drape area in smoky haze

The Harrietstown Town Hall, viewed from the Mountain Mist Custard parking lot on Monday, was obscured by a smoky haze which traveled from hundreds of Canadian wildfires to the west. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

This region continues to see the effects of wildfires in Canada and in the western U.S.

The air in Saranac Lake was hazy Monday morning. It smelled like smoke. In the afternoon, the state Department of Environmental Conservation reported “good” air quality at the summit of Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington, but “unhealthy” air quality at the base of the mountain.

“The state of New York is seeing the impact of smoke from wildfires in Canada and the western United States. DEC is not expecting the levels of PM 2.5 to exceed the daily standard, so we do not expect to issue an air quality advisory (Monday) or (Tuesday),” said DEC spokesman Jeff Wernick.

Smoke, mostly from hundreds of wildfires burning in the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan, Ontario and Manitoba, has been blowing east. It was visible last week before the rain scrubbed it from the air and it could be seen hanging over the Adirondacks again on Monday before the rain.

Evidence of the fires could be seen at the University of Albany’s Whiteface observatory, where Science Manager Richard Brandt said carbon monoxide, a gas, was at more than double its usual levels on Monday, spiking to a similar level as last week.

Wildfire smoke from Canada blanketed the Adirondacks Monday. This view from state Route 86, next to the Harrietstown cemetery, usually features layers upon layers of High Peaks and mountains. On Monday, only the closest hill ridge was visible. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

He was not in his office on Whiteface on Monday so he was not able to get much more information on the data being gathered there. But he said, generally, concentrations of gases and particles are highest at night. There is less “vertical mixing” of the air at night because the sun is not heating the Earth’s surface then.

Last week, the DEC issued an air quality advisory about PM 2.5 pollutants in the air, but the department said on Monday that those particles are not prevalent enough at this point to issue another warning.

PM 2.5 pollutants are solid particles and liquid droplets smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, small enough to enter the lungs.

These particles come from combustion and chemical reactions in the atmosphere — things like vehicle exhaust, power plants and fires.

Exposure to these particles in high levels, like those the DEC warned about last week, can cause short-term health effects in healthy adults and more severe effects for people sensitive to PM 2.5, like children, the elderly or people with heart or breathing diseases, like asthma, according to the DEC.

In comparison, this is the typical view from the same spot on state Route 86, taken by a Google Street View car on a clear day in 2018. (Courtesy of Google Street View)

Wildfires are becoming more prevalent because of climate change. Greenhouse gases trap in heat and raise the temperature of the globe, altering routine atmospheric events and creating conditions for more severe natural disasters, according to Brandt.

The DEC asked New Yorkers to reduce their energy use and pollution.

The state suggests things like carpooling or using public transit; turning off unused electronic appliances or limiting their use; closing blinds for heating and cooling efficiency and buying appliances with the Energy Star label.

According to a 2017 study by the Climate Accountability Institute, a climate research firm, 100 companies are responsible for 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, a primary contributor to climate change.


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