by Kate Shunney
A visible haze that could have been mistaken for sultry summer weather last week was this area’s dose of smoke from wildfires burning in Quebec and western Canada.
It was the second period in June when smoke from the north blanketed our area for days.
From Wednesday, June 28 through Saturday, July 1, the smoke haze hung in Morgan County and across the multi-state region, driving the air quality down to “Unhealthy” levels, as measured by AirNow.gov, a monitoring site run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
On Friday, Berkeley Springs stood at a 159 on the Air Quality Index, which ranges from 0 to 500. At that level, the outdoor air posed a risk of health effects for older and younger residents and those with respiratory conditions.
At 300 AQI, pollutants in the air are considered Very Unhealthy for all people. Morgan County never reached that level, but areas in northern West Virginia near Ohio and Pittsburgh did reach those levels on Wednesday, June 28.
By Sunday, air quality had returned to Moderate levels as weather systems moved the wildfire smoke away from the area.
Smoke from those Canadian wildfires was detected as far east as the center of the Atlantic Ocean.
According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC), smoke is from wildfires are mainly in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Northwestern Territories in western Canada, as well as Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia in eastern Canada.
As of last Friday morning, June 30, there were 499 active fires with 8.1 million hectares, or around 19.7 million acres, of land has been burned as a result of the wildfires.
That number includes 230 out of control fires, 94 being held, and 175 under control.
Local residents certainly noticed the smoke and haze, and many said they adjusted their activities to avoid being outdoors as much as they might have wanted.
Senior Life Services of Morgan County on Friday moved a celebratory picnic inside because of the poor air quality and risks it posed to older residents.
Some youth activities were also moved indoors around the county.
Geoff Fox contributed to this story.