Passengers flying to Phoenix thankful to get away from smoky air in New York City

East coasters flock to Arizona, hoping to escape the dense smoke pushing into the U.S. from wildfires burning in Canada.
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 8:30 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- New York City is one of several cities and towns across the Northeast under air quality warnings. Wildfires from Canada are creating smoke carried hundreds of miles east. New York City’s air quality is listed as “hazardous” Wednesday night.

Professional sporting events indoors and outdoors were postponed Wednesday in New York and Philadelphia. There was an orange haze over New York City during the afternoon. People living there say they wore a mask outside to try and breathe. “I could feel my eyes getting irritated,” Michael Muchnij said. “In the restaurant, they’d open the door, and I’d get a whiff of smoke and close the door, and it would dissipate.”

Muchnij was raised in Phoenix and moved to New York City several years ago. Some of his photography clients canceled their sessions with him because of the unusual sights and unhealthy air quality. “As cinematic as it looks, I’m hoping it goes away because I prefer the bright sunny days and nice breathable air,” he said.

People flying into Sky Harbor Airport were relieved to see the sun again. “It’s orange over there. You can barely see anything,” Brielle Roth said. She flew from Newark, New Jersey, to Phoenix for a two-week vacation. She said the ashy air impacted her after the long flight from New Jersey. “My eyes are still itchy and really red. I’m really uncomfortable, and it feels like doomsday,” she explained.

Roth says it was difficult to breathe there as well. She was worried the airport would close but was thrilled they stayed open. “I was relieved to get out. I was nervous we weren’t going to be able to get out, and I was like, how long are we going to have to deal with this?” she said.

Pierre Herckes is an air quality expert at Arizona State University. He says it is rare what’s happening in New York. Herckes adds the air quality from wildfires is dangerous. They carry carcinogens and can elevate cancer risks while irritating the eyes, nose and throat.

Herckes says haboobs air quality isn’t as bad as the wildfires out east. Haboobs have larger particles that don’t linger as long. If you wait an hour, a haboob typically passes, and you can go outside. People in New York have dealt with hazardous air quality for days and can’t wait a little while for it to pass. He expects the particles from the wildfires to linger in the Northeast.

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