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Smoke from West Coast wildfires reaches Connecticut, Northeast

Smoke from the wildfires that have devastated the West Coast has reached Connecticut, producing a high-altitude haze but so far posing no health threat, an air-quality specialist with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said Wednesday.

A variety of photos posted on social media captured the effect at sunrise, including some taken in New London.

The department began monitoring the smoke on Friday, tracking its progress eastward across the Midwest and into New England, said Tracy Babbidge, chief of DEEP’s Bureau of Air Management. High-pressure areas in the country’s midsection pushed the smoke up into the jet stream, she said, rendering it harmless.

“It’s really important for us to understand what’s happening across the country,” Babbidge said. “We’ve got 14 stations collecting data in real time, all part of a national network. Levels (of pollution) in some parts of California are extremely high.”

One of DEEP’s air-monitoring sites is at Fort Griswold in Groton.

An interactive national map accessible on DEEP’s website Wednesday showed many areas in red and purple, indicating unhealthy and even hazardous levels of particulate matter in surface air in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. All of the map’s locations in the eastern U.S. showed green, indicating “good” air quality.

The map reflects readings of PM2.5, which refers to atmospheric particles that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers — about 3% of the diameter of a human hair.

“It is a concern definitely from a public health standpoint,” Babbidge said of the smoke’s migration. “These particles can lodge in the lungs, causing respiratory and cardiovascular problems.”

She said DEEP, which has fielded calls about the smoke's impact on visibility, will continue to monitor meteorological conditions and put out daily forecasts and recommendations on its website, portal.ct.gov/DEEP.

“We’re not forecasting any impaired air quality at this point,” she said. “It’s aloft, or high up, not at a low level where folks are breathing.”

Satellite images reportedly showed the smoke had traveled to Great Britain and other parts of northern Europe.

The National Weather Service reported Wednesday that cooler weather was expected over the next two days in the Pacific Northwest and into northern and central California. While temperatures were expected to drop, hazardous air quality from the ongoing fires was considered likely to continue.

There was potential, however, for some much-needed rain in western portions of Washington state and western Oregon late Thursday into Friday, the service said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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