USA — A forest fire about 75 miles away in New Jersey burned so intensely that it affected our ability to breathe on Staten Island on Monday morning.
New York State issued an Air Quality Health Advisory for fine particulate matter blowing in the air on Monday morning for Staten Island and the rest of the New York metropolitan area. The warning was lifted in the early afternoon when pollution returned to acceptable levels.
Staten Islanders woke up to a pungent smoke odor and grey haze from the blaze that since Sunday has burned more than 1,500 acres, or about 2 square miles, along Batsto Road in Wharton State Forest. Wharton, New Jersey’s largest single tract of land within the state’s park system, is in Hammonton between Atlantic City and Philadelphia.
Michael Achey, an assistant warden with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, told NJ.com that gusty winds combined with low humidity contributed to the size of the blaze, which is the state’s largest forest fire so far this year. Achey predicted that the blaze would be 100 percent contained by the end of day. No injuries were reported.
The fire, in a remote area of Burlington County, where there are no homes or campsites, was spotted at 3:30 p.m. Sunday by a worker at the Batsto Fire Tower in the forest, Achey said. The cause of the fire is under investigation. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens and State Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Dr. Nirav R. Shah, issued the advisory at 9 a.m. but then lifted it shortly after 1 p.m. on Monday.
“Levels have quickly declined and no longer exceed AQI (Air Quality Index) standards,” the department said in a news release.
Hurricane Sandy survivor Tina Downer noticed the haze and smell as soon as she began her 7 a.m. commute from Prince’s Bay to Manhattan.
“When I arrived in Midtown and exited the express bus, the smell of smoke and haze were obvious here in the city as well,” Mrs. Downer said.
The fire was especially troubling to Mrs. Downer, as her decimated Sandy home was located in Oakwood Beach, where there were many brush fires. The Downer family took a buyout and they are renting.
DEC and DOH issue Air Quality Health Advisories when DEC meteorologists predict levels of pollution– either ozone or fine particulate matter– are expected to exceed an AQI value of 100. The higher the AQI, the greater the health risk. “Elevated levels of fine particles earlier today were due to a large brush fire in New Jersey, but the regional air quality improved rapidly during the morning hours,” the DEC said.
Fine particulate matter consists of tiny solid particles or liquid droplets in the air and exposure can cause short-term health effects such as irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and shortness of breath. Exposure to elevated levels of fine particulate matter can also worsen breathing related medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.