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West Virginia continues to deal with hazy skies from Canadian fires

Story by Jim Bissett, The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Where there’s fire – there’s smoke.

Smoke, in this case, coming from a spate of wildfires that have raged across Canada for the past three days.

The meteorological byproduct has had most of America’s northeast making like a Martian landscape at sunset, as fire crews are still laboring to knock it all back.

While the orange-hued, dystopian-looking fallout of smoke has canceled school, flights and sporting contests across the urban climes, the Mountain State has remained relatively clear of it all.

At least so far, Tim Nurkiewicz said.

“Well, at this point, it really does depend on which way the wind is going to blow,” said Nurkiewicz, an air quality expert and director of the WVU Center for Inhalation Toxicology.

Besides, with hundreds of fires going unchecked and charring a swath almost twice the size of Massachusetts, no one, the researcher said, gets to keep a clean handkerchief so long as the flames keep kindling.

The potential for medical harm, Nurkiewicz said, is being carried in those massive plumes of smoke billowing up into the jet stream.

Not that there is such a thing as a benign, wood-blaze anyway, he added, no matter how cozy it all looks on the campground or in the fireplace at Christmastime.

Woodfires are always going to generate properties that are unhealthy for inhaling, he explained, such as benzene and formaldehyde.

That gets multiplied off the scale if it’s from a fire consuming thousands of acres with homes and buildings – and all the plastics and synthetics and all the other materials not meant to burn – that go with them.

To get a sense of the scale, he said, give a quick look to the mountains and trees in the distance during your work commute today on Interstate 79, he said.

The pastoral fuzziness you’re regarding is the haze of smoke from the north.

Which is also what you’re breathing in right now, he said.

Miniscule and microscopic particulate matter can nest in lungs and find its way into to the bloodstream, Nurkiewicz said.

That’s why he recommends wearing a facemask while those fires are still burning – even a high-duty KN95 model – if you’re going to be outdoors for an extended time.

“You don’t have to go crazy,” he said, “but right now it is a good idea to wear some kind of covering.”

It’s also a good idea to make a daily online check of https://www.airnow.gov/, he said.

The link will carry you to the home of the U.S. Air Quality Index, which tracks pollution in what we breathe nationwide. Conditions were favorable Thursday across West Virginia, though they were in 16 other states, according to the index.

What to expect

Look for the Morgantown area meanwhile to have bouts of haze from the fires at least through Saturday, AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines said.

“You’ll have periods of three to four hours at a stretch,” he said, “and then it’ll clear up for a while.”

Things should be “considerably better” by Sunday, Kines said.

All smoke aside, AccuWeather is calling for a hazy high of 74 today, with a possible shower in the afternoon.

Saturday and Sunday will bring a mix of sun and clouds, with highs in the 80s both days.

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