REGION — Franklin County has had a few visibly smoggy days due to smoke pollution from wildfires in Central Canada.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection released Air Quality Forecasts that categorized the air quality in the Western Mountains from “Moderate” to “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” on Tuesday, July 20, and Wednesday, July 21.

In a phone interview, Tom Downs, chief meteorologist at the Maine DEP, explained that where the standard for air quality particle pollution is 2.5 micrograms per cubic centimeter, sites in Rumford and Lewiston saw air quality particle pollution at a daily average of 35, reaching as high as 59 around noon.

At the time of publication, the DEP and the National Weather Service forecasted a change in wind patterns that cleared out the smoke for a few days. However, Downs says that wind patterns are due to change again and smoke will likely return by Monday.

Obviously if (the fires) stop going the smoke doesn’t come but I’m pretty sure they’re out of control and the smoke is still coming out of those fires,” Downs said.

At the time of publication, Downs was right: The New York Times reported that British Columbia declared a provincial state of emergency as it battles 300 active wildfires in the region, 14 of which started in the last two days.

Downs said that air quality of this kind is not the norm in Maine, even when wildfires are ongoing. However, the stagnant air which is more common in recent summers allows the the smoke “to come down to the surface instead of staying aloft.”

“(Smoky air quality) doesn’t happen too often in Maine because most of the fires are out west and most of the time, the smoke stays aloft but this time, it didn’t,” Downs said.

Downs said that with global climate change and the increasing prevalence of wildfires, Maine could expect to see smokier skies like this again.

As air quality levels veer toward “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups,” Downs said people with breathing issues might have a hard time and suggested the use of masks while outdoors.

Downs said it is hard to predict how long the smoky skies will remain across Maine. Forecasts show it’s looking likely they will return on Monday.

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