Millions of people forced indoors as wildfire haze smothers US cities

Major US cities including New York are choking under a dangerous blanket of smoke that has drifted down from hundreds of wildfires raging in Canada.

The US National Weather Service issued air quality alerts for virtually the entire Atlantic seaboard on Wednesday (local time).

The alerts affect millions of people in numerous cities. The thick haze is expected to linger for days as firefighters continue to battle hundreds of fires that have been burning for weeks in Canada.

Some 414 fires are still burning across the border, with just over half of them considered out-of-control.

Schools along the US east coast cancelled outdoor activities, flights were halted and millions of people urged to stay indoors as the smoke descended.

New York’s world-famous skyline appeared to vanish underneath the otherworldly veil, which some residents said made them feel unwell.

“I can’t breathe. It makes breathing difficult,” Mohammed Abass said as he walked down Broadway in Manhattan.

The reduced visibility forced the US Federal Aviation Administration to slow or halt some flights at LaGuardia International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport.

In some areas, the Air Quality Index was well above 400, according to Airnow, which sets 100 as “unhealthy” and 300 as “hazardous”.

The skies above New York and many other North American cities grew progressively hazier throughout Wednesday (local time), with an eerie yellowish tinge filtering through the smoky canopy.

The air smelled like burning wood.

“This is not the day to train for a marathon or to do an outside event with your children,” New York Mayor Eric Adams advised.

“If you are older or have heart or breathing problems or an older adult, you should remain inside.”

City pedestrians donned face masks in numbers that recalled the worst days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Overnight, New York and Toronto in Canada had the worst air quality levels in the world, the BBC reports.

New York residents have been advised to stay indoors as much as possible. Photo: Getty

Worst wildfire season

It has been one of the worst starts to Canada’s forest fire season, with provinces engulfed in flames and thousands of people evacuated from their homes.

About 3.8 million hectares have already burned, 15 times the 10-year average, Canada’s Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair said.

“Across the country as of today, there are 414 wildfires burning, 239 of which are determined to be out of control,” he told a briefing.

The giant eastern province of Quebec is among the worst affected.

“We’ve … seen continued impacts to critical infrastructure in Quebec such as roads and rural closures, telecommunication interruptions and high voltage power lines being threatened by the growing fires,” Mr Blair said.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault earlier said the province was able to fight 40 fires at the same time.

“But we have 150 fires so we have to make sure that we focus where the problems are the more urgent,” he said.


Canadian armed forces have been deployed and help has also arrived  from the US, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Some 30,000 people across Canada are displaced due to forest fires burning in nearly all provinces.

Wildfires are common in Canada’s western provinces, but this year the eastern province of Nova Scotia is reeling from its worst-ever wildfire season.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, promised to keep providing federal assistance to affected provinces.

“This is a scary time for a lot of people from coast to coast to coast,” he said on Friday.

“We will continue to be there to support in whatever ways we can.

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