Apr 09, 2023

Lehigh Valley region 911 centers inundated with wildfire smoke calls

Allentown is shrouded in smoke from Canadian wildfires as seen from MacArthur Road (Route 145) Whitehall Township the afternoon of Tuesday, June 6, 2023.Mike Nester | contributor

Smoky conditions Tuesday across the Lehigh Valley region and western New Jersey worsened throughout the afternoon, due to Canadian wildfires.

Emergency radio broadcasts carried call after call into dispatchers about smoke conditions outdoors.

In Monroe County, Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Director Maryellen Keegan issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying: "Due to the wildfires in Quebec, Canada, National Weather Service–Mount Holly has forecasted Monroe County will experience hazy, smoky skies through sunset tonight into tomorrow morning.

"Monroe County OEM & 911 are urging residents to be discerning when calling to report smoke conditions to prevent overload on 911 system. If residents visually observe a fire or emergency they are urged to call 911 immediately."

Lehigh County emergency management officials issued a similar statement via social media. Northampton County Emergency Management Services said they are monitoring and have been in contact with the National Weather Service about the smoke conditions.

"If you are seeing a haze or smelling an odor of something burning without a source, it is likely the wind carrying the smoke into our area from the wildfires being battled in Canada," Northampton County officials said in a statement.

Warren County sent out a reverse-911 call to residents about the wildfire smoke, urging caution while driving due to reduced visibility, county Public Safety Director/OEM Coordinator Frank Wheatley said. The county's 911 center was getting "swamped" with outdoor odor calls as the smoky conditions deteriorated Tuesday afternoon, resulting in emergency services being dispatched, he said.

"But you can never take the chance," Wheatley said about calls for a possible fire. "These guys are doing what they’re supposed to be doing."

Environmental officials issued an Air Quality Alert Day for in and around the Lehigh Valley on both Tuesday and Wednesday, due to the wildfire smoke.

A separate Red Flag Warning remains in place through 8 p.m. Tuesday across a region that includes the Lehigh Valley and Pocono Mountains in eastern Pennsylvania plus western New Jersey. It states: "The combination of very dry conditions, low humidity, and gusty winds will result in favorable conditions for the rapid spread of fires on Tuesday."

Easton's Cottingham Stadium is masked in smoke from Canadian wildfires the afternoon of Tuesday, June 6, 2023.Tim Wynkoop | contributor

Smoke from Canada's wildfires has been moving into the United States since last month. The most recent fires near Quebec have been burning for at least several days.

The Code Orange Air Quality Alerts issued for Tuesday and Wednesday across eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey mean "air pollution concentrations within the region may become unhealthy for sensitive groups," the National Weather Service said Wednesday. "Sensitive groups include children...people suffering from asthma... heart disease or other lung diseases...and the elderly. The effects of air pollution can be minimized by avoiding strenuous activity or exercise outdoors."

Experts advise to put off yard work and outdoor exercise. If you go out, consider wearing an N95 mask to reduce your exposure to pollutants.

Stay inside, keeping your doors, windows and fireplaces shut. It's recommended that you run the air conditioning on a recirculation setting.

Smoke from Canadian wildfires fills the air over Grape Street in Whitehall Township the afternoon of Tuesday, June 6, 2023.Mike Nester | contributor

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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