Zombie fires have been burning under sheets of snow in Canada as remnants of last year’s massive wildfires remain in the area.
Zombie fires, or smoldering, slow-burning fires occurring beneath the Earth’s surface, have raised fears that melting ice will bring another smog-filled summer to the United States.
Firefighter and scientist Sonja Leverkus said that while driving in a snowstorm in November in her small town in British Columbia, she noticed that instead of the snow being white, it was a blue-gray color from the smoke.
“I’ve never experienced a blizzard that smelled like smoke,” Leverkus said.
Now, those fears could lead to another wave of smog and haze hitting the United States, like what much of the East Coast experienced in the summer of 2023.
Zombie fires have continued to burn under layers of snow in Canada and cannot be put out due to a lack of firefighters on off-season leave. Now, there are fears that they could impact the US again as they did during the summer.
Over the summer, large swaths of the United States, from the Northeast to the Great Lakes, brace for several more days of smog as Canadian officials battle more than 400 wildfires.
A thick, nicotine-yellow haze enveloped the Big Apple’s famous skyline on Wednesday as the city became the most polluted in the world, with its air quality index topping 400, which is considered “hazardous.”
More than a dozen U.S. states and more than 100 million people are under air quality alerts, prompting many to start wearing pandemic-era masks.
Health experts have warned that breathing the haze can be as harmful as smoking 22 cigarettes a day. Smog nanoparticles are so small that they can penetrate the lungs and bloodstream, with side effects that also include eye and throat irritation, as well as breathing problems.
“The Canadian wildfires present a common exposure for almost all New Yorkers right now.” Acting Health Commissioner James McDonald said at the time.
‘Our risk from this exposure is based on our underlying personal health condition.
A man talks on the phone while looking through the fog on the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey, on June 7.
New York’s Yankee Stadium photographed under foggy conditions before a game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox, which has since been postponed due to poor air quality.
The smoky yellow fog enveloped the city and lasted for days.
An orange haze blanketed the entire city on Wednesday as health officials warned against exposure to pollution.
Manhattanites could barely see the Statue of Liberty across the Hudson River due to poor visibility.
“Those New Yorkers with underlying conditions, such as lung or heart disease, are at increased risk from this exposure and are encouraged to adjust their activities accordingly.”
A blanket of wildfire smoke first descended on New York on Tuesday before thickening throughout the afternoon and into Wednesday, leaving Manhattanites unable to see the New Jersey skyline across the river. Hudson.
In addition to sending New Yorkers indoors, air quality alerts were also introduced in states including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois, Virginia and the Carolinas, according to the National Weather Service.
A day of smog, Chicago also recorded the worst air quality in the world yesterday, as it was also consumed by smoke from the fires. The city had been flagged for having unhealthy air with a reading of 175 AQI, and some parts of Michigan reached higher levels.
The index is a measure of five common contaminants and runs on a scale of 0 to 500, with a score above 150 considered “unhealthy.”
According to the index at the time, Washington DC, Minneapolis, Chicago and Detroit were in the top ten with the worst air quality on the planet.
Washington, DC, was covered in smog throughout Wednesday and is expected to continue for several days.
Hazy skies seen over the horizon in Washington, DC, one of many East Coast centers affected by smoke.
The Chicago skyline is covered in haze from the Canadian wildfires, as seen from Solidarity Drive amidst heavy smog from the wildfires in Canada.
Today in Canada, the plumes are still visible in February, even as temperatures dropped dramatically. The fires cannot be put out manually due to a lack of firefighters on off-season leave, according to Forrest Tower, fire information officer for the British Columbia Fire Department.
Zombie fires, also known as winter fires, are kept alive by peat, an organic soil commonly found in North American forests, and thick layers of snow.
Over the past ten years, British Columbia has experienced, on average, five to six zombie fires that have continued to burn, the bbc reported.
In January, the Canadian province recorded a record 106 active zombie fires, something scientists fear could affect the risk of future wildfires and have linked them to a possible early start to the wildfire season.
According to provincial data, although most of these winter fires tend to extinguish themselves, a total of 91 continue to burn in the area.
Data has come to suggest that fires that manage to burn into March could increase the chances of them reigniting once temperatures rise and snow melts.
Jennifer Baltzer, a biology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and Canada Research Chair in Forests and Global Change, said “it’s very alarming to see prolonged burning.”
The fires consumed more than 44 million acres of land in 2023 and was one of the deadliest wildfire seasons, as several firefighters died while battling the flames.
Burned trees seen in social media posts about Canadian wildfires
Wildfires spread across much of Canada and caused haze and smog in parts of the US.
Combined, or smoldering, fires, slow-burning fires that occur beneath the Earth’s surface, have sparked fears that melting ice will bring another smog-filled summer to the U.S.
Mike Flannigan, a professor and fire management expert at Thompson River University, said the increase in wildfires last year is one of the reasons the area is experiencing an increase in zombie fires.
He added that extreme drought, something British Columbia has been facing for years, has also contributed to the zombie fires.
In February, British Columbia experienced a medium to extreme level of drought, according to the province’s drought map.
Like overwintering fires, the presence of drought has also been quite significant, as Leverkus noted that a stream he saw last summer has turned into “just puddles.”
Another worrying factor is that there hasn’t been much snow or rain in the area either, which gives more room for smoky fires to become flames.
Tower said officials are currently monitoring the zombie fires and if they progress, there is a chance the province’s wildfire season could arrive as early as March or April.