Smoke from Western Wildfires Worsens Local Air Quality

The CZU lightning complex fire burns along Butano Ridge and in Pescadero Creek Park, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. (Inklein/CC 4.0/Wikipedia)

As major wildfires burn out West and in Canada, the air quality in much of Massachusetts has ranged from “unhealthy for sensitive groups” to outright “unhealthy” — and experts warn that climate change will make the problem even worse.

“This week, while somewhat of an anomaly — we’re not used to experiencing this kind of pollution event on the East Coast caused by West Coast fires — we’re probably going to see that more and more as these events get larger and larger,” said Pamela Templer, an environmental scientist at Boston University.

Around 80 wildfires have been burning across almost 1.5 million acres in 12 states in the U.S. as of Sunday. They’re fueled by a mega drought and extreme heat days that have dried out soils and plants, Templer said. As a result, all it takes is a lightning strike or spark from another source to start a fire.

“I think the evidence is pretty clear that climate change is causing these extreme heat events and really intense droughts that are making fires worse than they otherwise would be,” she said. Templer’s expertise is in forest ecology, climate change, and air pollution.

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