The smoke from numerous severe forest fires in Canada has enveloped parts of the US east coast and caused the worst air quality in decades in the metropolis of New York. The plumes of hundreds of fires in eastern Canada moved in a southerly direction and led to a dense, foggy veil and a temporary orange coloring of the sky in New York, among other places.

“Mars or Manhattan?” wrote a Twitter user and published a photo of the skyline including the Empire State bulding. A burnt smell was in the air, could be felt in the throat and eyes and caused a headache.

“Air quality is deteriorating rapidly”

The governor of the state of New York, Kathy Hochul, spoke of an “emergency crisis” and announced that she wanted to distribute one million mouth and nose masks. The extreme situation could last for several days. “People have to prepare for a long period of time.” Manhattan’s Borough Mayor Mark Levine wrote, “Air quality is deteriorating rapidly.” The measured value is “now more than twice as high as the highest level of health risk on the US government scale.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres tweeted a photo of himself at the UN headquarters in front of a New York skyline clearly shrouded in smoke. “In our UN headquarters, we can feel the deteriorating air quality as smoke from wildfires in Canada drifts south,” Guterres wrote. “With global temperatures rising, there is an urgent need to reduce the risk of forest fires. We must make peace with nature. We cannot give up.”

Best to stay indoors

People in New York have been urged to stay indoors as much as possible, avoid strenuous physical activity as much as possible and close windows. All outdoor activities in schools and kindergartens have been cancelled, many other open-air events and individual theater performances have also been cancelled.

Lifeguard-supervised swimming on the city’s beaches was canceled, and zoos and libraries closed earlier. The New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies baseball games scheduled for Wednesday, as well as the New York Liberty women’s basketball game, have been postponed.

There were significantly fewer people on the streets than usual, many wore the masks known from the pandemic. In the street canyons, not only did visibility decrease significantly, millions of people could also feel the smoke physically. “It smells like 9/11,” one New Yorker commented on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Washington also affected

In the US capital Washington, around 370 kilometers further south, the air was cloudy and it smelled burnt. As in New York, a poor air quality warning was issued. According to the official website, the highest level of air pollution in New York was “dangerous”.

The FAA said traffic to and from airports in the New York City area and in Philadelphia had been restricted due to poor visibility. There were long delays. In Canada’s metropolises of Ottawa and Toronto and in the US states of Minnesota and Massachusetts, authorities also warned residents of bad air. Numerous fires have been raging in Canada’s west and now also in the north-east of the country for weeks. In the south-eastern province of Nova Scotia, the situation had recently eased somewhat.

The White House said President Joe Biden had also been briefed on the situation. “It’s another alarming example of how the climate crisis is affecting our lives and communities,” said spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.