Washington residents and surrounding communities in Northern Virginia and Baltimore, Maryland, are under an air quality alert due to wildfires burning thousands of miles away.
The National Weather Service issued an “orange” alert for the Washington DC area, warning that “sensitive” groups of people are in danger of breathing unhealthy air: the young, the elderly, and people with asthma, heart disease and lung problems. These groups were cautioned to avoid strenuous activities and exercise outdoors.
A cloudy sky could already be seen over the Washington, DC region by Tuesday as has happened for several days in other parts of the country, but the Metropolitan Council of Governments in Washington said the haze reached unhealthy levels on Wednesday.
Right now, there are huge clouds of smoke that look like volcano ash, rising from the so-called ‘Bootleg fire’ in southern Oregon, about 2,735 miles (4,400 kilometers) from Washington.
Much of the smoke is carried by air currents into northern Canada and back to the Midwest and the east coast of the United States.
See also: Biden warns that the US must ‘act fast’ to face the threat posed by wildfires
And it’s not just that fire. The National Interagency Fire Center said there are 78 large wildfires burning in 13 mostly western states, fueled by record heat that gripped Oregon and Washington states, along with Canada, in late June.
Even this week, temperatures in that region are above normal.
The possibility of thunderstorms in Washington DC on Wednesday night would help clear the unhealthy air.
As the US capital grapples with smoke, some lawmakers lamented that this phenomenon is a product of climate change that is causing extreme heat, droughts and wildfires in the west, and now affecting the rest of the country.
During a hearing Wednesday on extreme heat led by the Subcommittee on the Environment, Democratic Congressman Sean Casten from the state of Illinois said: “This makes me very sad.”
Casten referenced a deadly heat wave in Chicago that killed more than 700 people in 1995. “The people who died were the most needy, the people who couldn’t afford air conditioning.”
“Future generations will wonder why we did not do more to combat climate change,” concluded the legislator.
* Maria Paula Triviño contributed to the writing of this note.
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