The historically intense wildfires that battered the Nova Scotia province on the eastern coast of Canada have had a severe effect on air quality as far south as Virginia and Maryland, the US National Weather Service alerted.
Four wildfires have destroyed hundreds of buildings and homes and displaced tens of thousands of people, hitting the Halifax municipality hardest. But the blazes have also sent smoke billowing over New York City, and have prompted officials from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia to report negative effects on their air quality.
The health department of Pennsylvania’s Chester county warned “smoke and haze from wildfires in Canada continue to linger” and that air quality may be unhealthy for young children, older adults and people with respiratory problems.
Earlier in the week, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, had also seen plumes of smoke from the fires that the US’s neighbors to the north were fighting.
The National Weather Service in Wakefield, Virginia, 164 miles (263km) south of Washington, issued an air quality alert for Friday for the Richmond area due to smoke from the wildfires.
St Mary’s county in Maryland also tweeted “air quality may be [affected] by the ongoing wildfires in southeastern Canada”. Officials urged residents to get emergency help by dialing 911 if they notice smoke or the smell of smoke.
About 16,000 residents of Canada in and around Halifax were told to leave the area for their safety. Officials confirmed at least half of the Halifax fires had been contained and had not grown since Wednesday, but it was still burning furiously.
Halifax’s deputy fire chief, David Meldrum, said officials had completed an inventory of damaged and destroyed properties. But authorities had not been able to immediately release information about the number of affected properties.
In nearby Shelburne, a county of 1,300 people, residents were forced to leave the area. Among the facilities evacuated was the local Roseway hospital.
Despite a fierce defensive firefighting force counting on water bombers and air tankers, the large Barrington Lake was engulfed in flames which grew in size to more than 77 sq miles (200 sq km).
Cooler temperatures and steady rain were not expected until late Friday, though the forecast called for some spotty showers during the day, giving officials hope that the efforts of those grappling with the wildfires would be aided.