Smoke from western fires on its way to Maine

Posted July 21, 2014, at 6:02 p.m.
Last modified July 21, 2014, at 6:44 p.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — Smoke from wildfires in the western United States created hazy conditions and dramatic sunsets in northern Maine this past weekend and more may be on the way.

The air cleared on Monday, but state and national forecasters predict the smoke will drift back over Maine again later this week, bringing more haze and air quality warnings.

“I am thinking the smoke will probably be back [Tuesday] late in the day,” Martha Webster, air quality meteorologist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said Monday afternoon. “The forecast is for good air tomorrow since the smoke won’t be here early enough to issue a moderate warning.”

By Wednesday, however, the levels of smoke are predicted to be high enough for Webster’s office to issue a “moderate” air quality warning for the entire state.

“From the health perspective that means sensitive people should reduce prolonged exposure to heavy exertion,” Webster said. “Watch for symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath and if you experience those, take it easy.”

There are currently 32 active wildfires burning hundreds of thousands of acres in three western states, according to the U.S. Forest Services’ active fire map website.

The largest fires are in Oregon and Washington, according to the website.

“The smoke is getting wafted into the higher winds aloft and they are moving it across the country,” Maureen Hastings, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Caribou, said Monday. “We saw it over the weekend but it shifted south over southern New England today.”

Most of the weekend haze was over Aroostook and Washington counties.

Both Hastings and Webster said a cold front pushing east will bring that smoke back into most of Maine by late Tuesday into Wednesday.

“This is not unusual with the big fires,” Hastings said. “If they are bad fires, the smoke can travel far.”

Occasionally the smoke from those distant fires can be thick enough that people in Maine can notice its smell, she said.

Sunlight refracting through the smoke also creates vibrant and red sunsets.

“We’ve been watching it on various websites,” Webster said. “There has been a lot of smoke aloft and it appears [now] to be reaching the surface around the Great Lakes [and] the cold front won’t push it through here until Wednesday.”