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Canada's unprecedented wildfire season has affected air quality beyond its borders


Something like 500 wildfires continue to burn across Canada, and it's affecting the air we breathe. Earlier this week, the air quality in Toronto was among the worst in the world. And many Americans in the Midwest and on the East Coast continue to endure hazy, smoky conditions. Canadian journalist Sheena Rossiter is in Edmonton, Alberta, and she joins us now. Hi, Sheena.


PARKS: So give us the latest. What's the latest on these wildfires in Canada?

ROSSITER: Well, this continues to be the worst wildfire season on record due to the unseasonably hot and dry conditions across the country. In western Canada, where I am, we typically have fires this time of year. But what's unusual is that there have also been fires in eastern Canada, like the province of Nova Scotia. And now what we're seeing is how bad it's getting in Quebec. And what's making these fires unprecedented this season - it's both the amount of fires but also the area that's being burned. And that smoke is impacting people well beyond Canada. It's so far-reaching, in fact, that NASA satellites have even captured smoke from Canadian wildfires going as far as Portugal and Spain.


ROSSITER: So smoke is still - yeah. And smoke is still blanketing the Midwest and East Coast. And that's coming from wildfires in Quebec, where there's some 71 active wildfires that are still burning. And that's where about 2,300 people have been evacuated from their homes.

PARKS: Yeah, I have to admit, we've been going through this for weeks here in D.C. My dog is not thrilled about it. But how long are these expected to last?

ROSSITER: Well, this is just the start. And wildfires are normal in Canada this time of year but just not at this scale. So fire season typically starts as early as May, which it did this year with fires here in the province of Alberta. And it goes all the way until October, or at least it can go until October. And fire season peaks in about July or August when the country's experiencing the hottest weather. So this - as I mentioned, this is the worst fire season on record. So far, about 20 million acres of land has burned, which has surpassed the number of burns from 2021 and 2022 combined. And with temperatures expected to soar throughout the month of July, well, fires are more - expected to only get worse.

PARKS: And what does the effort to fight them look like? I mean, how is this going for the firefighters?

ROSSITER: Well, since May, close to 1,500 firefighters have come from around the world, 10 countries in total, to the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia to help put out some of these fires. And the latest foreign pack of firefighter arriving from South Korea, which is sending 151 people to put out the blazes in northeastern Quebec. And these wildfires are really causing significant damage to the affected areas across the country.

PARKS: Any health advice from Canadian officials on what they can do to protect against this bad air quality?

ROSSITER: Yeah. And today's a significant day here in Canada. It is Canada Day, and many Canadians are taking this national holiday to get outside and celebrate with their friends and family. But in some parts of the country, it's not safe to do that right now. So some outdoor activities in places like Montreal have been canceled due to poor air quality over the past few weeks. And health officials are basically encouraging people to wear N95 masks if they do want to get outside. And that's if the air quality index is over 150, then you should be masking up with an N95 in order to be able to breathe OK.

PARKS: That's Sheena Rossiter in Edmonton, Alberta, joining us on Canada Day. Thank you, Sheena.

ROSSITER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Miles Parks
Miles Parks is a correspondent on NPR's Washington Desk, where he covers voting and election security.