Smoke From Wildfires Prompts Air Quality Concerns in Ontario

Smoke From Wildfires Prompts Air Quality Concerns in Ontario
A boat navigates the Hudson River as the New York City skyline is covered with haze and smoke from Canada wildfires in Weehawken, N.J. on June 7, 2023.(Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
Doug Lett

Smoke from wildfires in northern Quebec and Ontario is blanketing big cities like Toronto and going as far south as New York.

The smoky haze has triggered air quality statements in parts of southern Ontario and the United States. There are dozens of such statements stretching across southern Ontario.

Environment Canada is warning that air quality in Toronto on June 7 will reach an index level of 7, which the federal agency says presents a “high risk.”

The smoky haze can leave people coughing and with an itchy throat, and Environment Canada is telling people to be cautious about strenuous outdoor activities.

“Stop outdoor activities and contact your health care provider if you or someone in your care experiences shortness of breath, wheezing (including asthma attacks), severe cough, dizziness or chest pains,” the agency says on its website.

While the air quality in the GTA is expected to improve overnight, the agency warns it may get worse on Thursday, June 8. The index is expected to hit 9 on Thursday, which is classed as “high risk,” and it will only go down to 8 Thursday night–which is still classed as high risk.

“Poor air quality will persist into the weekend,” says the air quality statement for Toronto.

The Toronto Blue Jays have announced the June 8 game will be played under a closed roof because of the poor air quality.
While the situation in northern Ontario is not as bad, it could get worse. The fire danger for much of northeast Ontario is listed as either high or extreme, and as of June 7, there were over 30 fires burning in northeast Ontario, many of them out of control, and 21 fires burning in the north-west region. There are also travel restrictions and fire bans in various parts of the province.


Much of the smoke is coming from fires in northern Quebec, and north-eastern Ontario. Quebec Premier Francois Legault told a news conference on June 7 that the situation is difficult.

“It’s a very tough year,” said Legault, adding about another 13,000 people are getting evacuated from several communities in northern Quebec being threatened.

Legault said there are about 150 wildfires burning in the province, and they do not have the resources to fight them all.

He said the province has about 520 firefighters on the ground, as well as aircraft battling the fires, along with 150 people from the Canadian Armed Forces.

“And we hope to have more than 500 in the next few days coming from New Brunswick, France, United States, Portugal, Spain, and Mexico. So we are looking to increase the numbers to about 1,200. So I think of course, right now with the manpower we have we can fight about 40 fires at the same time, but we have 150 fires so we have to make sure that we focus where the problems are,” said the premier.


Other provinces are battling wildfires across the country. On June 5, federal officials announced 2023 could be shaping up to be one of the worst years on record.

Michael Norton, Director General of the Northern Forestry Centre with Natural Resources Canada told reporters in Ottawa that 3.3 million hectares have already been burned across the country. He said it is “unprecedented” this early in the season.

Norton blamed climate change as a factor, while Richard Carr, a fire research analyst with the Northern Forestry Centre said a fading La Nina weather pattern, leading to dry, windy conditions is what’s making this year particularly bad.

Parts of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia have all seen higher-than-average numbers of fires. Across the country, around 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate at various times this spring because of fires.

The worst year on record for Canada was 1989, when wildfires scorched some 7.5 million hectares.
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