NJ forest firefighter's advice on coping with smoke from Canada wildfires

Though North Jersey residents are facing several days dealing with unhealthy air because of smoke flowing down from Canadian wildfires, Christopher Franek deals with such conditions routinely.

Franek, an assistant division fire warden with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, said firefighters in the state deal with intense smoke all the time, sometimes for weeks on end because of full-time forest fire suppression efforts and controlled burns. He recommends that residents monitor local air quality and take necessary precautions.

Smoke from wildfires blazing near Quebec, Canada has spread to much of the northeast U.S., causing an intense, murky yellow-orange haze and sparking public health warnings in New Jersey and New York.

Although now is Canada’s normal fire season, the wildfires flaring currently are “a little more extreme,” said Franek. They have been largely caused by lightning strikes and exacerbated by a lack of rain.

Prolonged fire season

New Jersey's recent weather patterns almost mirror Canada’s, causing “very similar conditions” for fire danger here. All areas of the Garden State face high or very high danger of fire, according to a New Jersey Forest Fire Service map.

Hazy conditions over Paterson from wildfires in Canada on Wednesday, June 7, 2023.

“New Jersey has been experiencing 10 more fire days a year,” Franek said. “Climate change is causing us to have a prolonged fire season.”

Air quality was unhealthy for all of New Jersey on Wednesday, according to AirNow.gov, which gathers air quality data using the official U.S. Air Quality Index. The site predicted a lower rating, meaning somewhat healthier air, for Thursday than Wednesday, but warned the air would remain unhealthy for people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children.

Limit outdoor activity Wednesday evening

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection declared Particulate Matter Action Days for Wednesday and Thursday. That means the agency expected fine particulates in the air to reach unhealthy levels into the evening due to Canada’s wildfire smoke.

The department advised people to limit strenuous activities and time spent outdoors, especially in the evening on Wednesday. Anyone may experience health effects like a runny nose, shortness of breath and sneezing, among others. People in sensitive groups could suffer more adverse health effects. These people should continue precautions into Thursday.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NJ forest firefighter: Why Canada wildfires smoke intense, how to cope