EDITORIAL: The reach of Western wildfires

Last week poor air quality from western wildfires reached the East Coast and triggered health concerns. It brought the emergency nature of what has been happening to this side of the country in a dramatic way that you could feel and breathe.

The air was thick with haze and the atmosphere had an edgy uneasiness to it. Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection issued an air quality warning as a result of the effects of the wildfires. Particulate matter reached levels considered unhealthy, with levels in New Haven at 117 and Waterbury 114, as the Record-Journal reported. A level of 100 to 300 is considered unhealthy, above 300 hazardous. Readings in California had reached over 400 in some areas.

“This is becoming a concern for the entire country,” said Gary Lessor, a meteorologist at the Western Connecticut State University Weather Center.

General advice on how to respond depended on individual health. Those with heart or lung disease, the elderly and children and teenagers were advised to limit time outdoors. Lessor said those in risk groups should wear a mask to limit the particulate matter they breathe in, and others should limit strenuous activities outdoors.

There was sympathy for what our fellow Americans have been experiencing. “I feel for the people out West,” said Wallingford Fire Chief Joseph Czentnar. “It’s one of the worst wildfire years ever.”

An Associated Press report noted that climate change has led to warmer and drier conditions in the West over the past 30 years. An air quality expert, Jesse Berman, told the AP, “we fully expect that you’re going to see more situations where smoke, from fires occurring farther away, is going to travel long distances and affect people in other parts of the country. I would not be surprised at all if these events did become more frequent in the future.”

It’s not an encouraging observation, but it reminds us that we’re all in this together.

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