A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite image from June 7 shows the smoke above Montgomery County and the suroounding region. Credit: NOAA

Montgomery County is about 700 miles from Quebec, Canada where wildfires are raging, but that isn’t far enough to protect residents from smokey, hazy conditions that have forced county officials to declare a Code Purple, indicating “very unhealthy” air quality as the second worst color on the scale.  According to a NASA Scientist, this won’t be the last time.

Ryan Stauffer, a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, said that the rampant wildfires in Quebec are being caused by the extremely hot and dry conditions brought on by climate change. There are around 400 wildfires that have been burning in Quebec for several days, Stauff said.

Stauffer said he has “no doubt” that an air quality crisis like this will happen again due to the progressive effects of climate change. It could even happen again this year since Canada is on pace to have a “record-breaking fire season,” according to Stauffer.

“I took this as a bit of a wake-up call, and I hope other people do too,” Stauffer said.

The Canadian wildfires started in late April in British Columbia and Alberta. The fires in these western provinces are now under control, but recently, the fires started in the eastern provinces of Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario. Quebec has had the most severe wildfires that are still going strong.

Stauffer says that Americans have seen this scenario play out before from July 7-8, 2002, but it was on a much smaller scale.


“The pollution levels for this week are head and shoulders above what we saw back in 2002,” Stauffer said.

He further explained that Canadian Wildfires are affecting areas as far south as Montgomery County because of wind and weather patterns.

“We’re kind of stuck between a high-pressure system in central Canada and a low-pressure system off the northeast coast of the U.S., and those two systems combined have made basically a direct pipeline to smoke to enter the United States,” Stauffer said.


Usually, weather systems are transient, meaning they move across a region. Calm and stormy weather usually moves along the jet stream, he said. However, the high- and low-pressure systems are currently stuck in place, meaning the smoke has continually been funneling into the U.S. for days, Stauffer said.

“Fires in Quebec, typically flow along the jet stream, which moves from west to east, since the winds are blowing that direction. But because of this really unique and sort of wacky pattern that we’ve been stuck in, instead, it’s just going straight out of the north and [into the United States].”

He said that the dangerous air quality will likely persist until the end of this week, but there is potential for improvement this weekend.


“There’s a bit of uncertainty, but we’re hopeful that we can get some sort of wind direction change, maybe some sort of a rainmaker eventually as well to help remove some of this pollution, but it’s certainly going to be with us today and tomorrow as well,” Stauffer said.

Daniel Ogren, the Assistant Chief with the Montgomery County Fire Rescue, said that county residents have previously smelled smoke from distant wildfires that occurred periodically in southern Virginia.

“People were calling 911 because they were smelling smoke, and it was as a result of fires that were hundreds of miles away,” Ogren said.


However, this time people are not just smelling smoke from another state; they are smelling it from another country.

Even though the flames are far away, people in Montgomery County can still be directly affected. The county has implemented many safety precautions in the last couple of days as conditions worsen.

This morning, Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation announced that the Ride On – Montgomery County Transit buses would be free and “all strenuous outdoor work activities” are suspended. Additionally, outdoor recreation activities sponsored by the County’s Department of Recreation are canceled for today.


Yesterday, Montgomery County Public Schools announced that they would be canceling outdoor recess and other activities, such as athletics, until Thursday due to unhealthy air conditions. There is currently a change.org petition to “Close MCPS Schools 6/8/23-6/9/23 Due to Poor Air Quality & Smoke.” It currently has over 18,000 signatures.

The health concerns are severe, and this should be taken seriously, Stauffer said.

“When you breathe in these particles, like the air outside today, they don’t just irritate your airways and the respiratory system. They’re small enough to actually enter your bloodstream through the lungs, where they’ve been circulated throughout the body,” Stauffer said.


He said in severe cases, this can cause heart attacks, strokes, breathing issues and respiratory issues, especially for those affected by asthma or conditions like COPD.

“That’s why we’re really sounding the alarm for this unprecedented historical air pollution,” Stauff said.

You can get the latest information on air quality in your zip code at airnow.gov or on the EPA AIRNow mobile app.