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Smoke From Western Wildfires To Affect Air Quality In Maine Through Tuesday

Western Wildfires
Nathan Howard
A small brush fires spreads ahead of a containment line near the Northwest edge of the Bootleg Fire on Friday, July 23, 2021, near Paisley, Ore.

State officials are issuing an air quality alert, as smoke from wildfires in the western U.S. and Canada descends on Maine.

State observers say ongoing fires in Ontario and Oregon have sent smoke spiraling across the country's skies, and particulate matter is now poised to drop down to earth.

"Between noon today and noon tomorrow is when we expect that the highest values will occur at the surface in Maine," says Martha Webster, a state air quality meteorologist. She says particulate levels are expected to rise to concerning levels this afternoon, starting in the north-western mountains and moving through the rest of the state overnight - and then abating from north to south Tuesday evening.

She's issued an alert that air quality could be "unhealthy for sensitive groups" during that period. Webster says if the horizon is obscured or smoke can be smelled, sensitive people - such as those with asthma or other lung conditions -- should take precautions.

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Maine Department of Environmental Protection

"If you normally jog, you may want to do the same route but walk it. If you normally jog or exercise along a roadway, this a good day to find a different route - further away from emissions from cars or trucks at the surface," Webster says.

Webster says that while the air should clear by Wednesday, it's hard to make specific long-term predictions for wildfire smoke. Given that it's still early in the wildfire season, she says more unhealthy air could be headed Maine's way this year.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.