The Age of Flames Reaches the U.S. East Coast
Canadian wildfires are spewing smoke into New York City and Washington, D.C.
Smoke from Canadian wildfires has engulfed the East Coast, cloaking cities in a hazy smog and putting some 100 million people under air quality alerts. More than 400 fires are burning in British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec and Ontario; half are uncontrolled. New York City became home to the worst air quality in the world. Philadelphia has also issued a code-red alert, advising people to stay indoors, and the plumes may continue inundating the region for several more days to come, with the smoke stretching through Washington, D.C., and down to Atlanta, Georgia.
In the United States, supercharged wildfires once seemed like a uniquely West Coast problem, like the 2018 Camp Fire, which obliterated the California town of Paradise. A range of factors contributed to that massive blaze, including the region's legacy of fire suppression, which allowed dead brush to pile up. Climate change means that hotter temperatures dry that brush out, so it burns catastrophically. That’s also the problem in Canada right now. The number of fires is only slightly above the average for this time of year, but "the size of the fires and the intensity of fires has significantly increased," said Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia.
In other words: East Coast, welcome to the Pyrocene, or the Age of Flames, as fire historian Stephen Pyne calls it. Climate change and human meddling in the landscape have combined to make wildfires bigger and more intense, big enough to send clouds of toxic smoke not only from Canada to the East Coast, but across whole continents. "Climate change is acting as a performance enhancer: It's exacerbating what is a natural rhythm," said Pyne. "There's no reason to think that those trends will suddenly stop."
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