Wildfire haze prompts County air quality warning

5 months ago

Smoke from forest fires in Quebec affected northern Maine’s air quality over the weekend for the first time.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued an alert for Sunday, June 26, as humid conditions compounded the haze, keeping the smoke closer to the ground.

It was the first time the department had warned of poor air conditions in northern Maine this year. Southern Maine had received warnings earlier this month due to the overhanging smoke from several Canadian wildfires. Locally, the air quality index reached 143 in Madawaska and 139 in Presque Isle, according to the Maine DEP preliminary daily maximum data results.

“Now that whole system has moved eastward, so we here in Maine were underneath that northerly jet stream and that is what pushed the smoke down towards northern Maine,” said Lousie Fode, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Caribou.

The smoke from the Quebec fires missed Aroostook County earlier this month because of a low-pressure system that pushed the smoke into the jet stream west of northern Maine.

It is uncommon for northern Maine to receive an air quality warning, but on Sunday, the air quality was unhealthy for sensitive groups of people like the elderly, young children, or people suffering from respiratory ailments.

“We don’t frequently see forest fires in Canada on our side of the country, and so just to have the influence of smoke bringing pollution into northern Maine was a little unusual,” Fode said.

The smoke that was in northern Maine has now moved to southeast Maine. 

Smoke pollution depends on wind direction. If there is increased forest fire activity to the west of northern Maine, the right wind conditions could push more smoke into the area, Fode said.

If another air quality warning occurs, the DEP recommends those with sensitive respiratory conditions stay inside where the air is more filtered. Those who go outside should wear a face mask.