Updated at 6:25 p.m.
Wildfire smoke from Quebec caused a haze and a red sun effect through the Lake Champlain area and was reported as far as the Northeast Kingdom and Brattleboro on Tuesday morning.
The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation issued an air quality advisory on Monday afternoon warning the poor air quality could be dangerous for at-risk groups.
Widespread fires in Alberta, Nova Scotia, Quebec and eastern Ontario have caused “unhealthy” air quality across much of the United States, but this is the first time this year it affected Vermont so heavily, according to Bennett Leon, planning section chief of the department’s air quality and climate division.
The National Weather Service forecast there would be improvements throughout the day, while scattered rain could reduce the wildfire smoke even further, meteorologist Rebecca Duell said. But since the wildfires are ongoing, there could be “off and on” impacts to Vermont in the near future.
Leon said the current level of pollutants in the air is considered “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” including people with respiratory conditions, young children, older adults and people who work outside. The department recommends at-risk groups stay indoors with the windows closed, and everyone should keep an eye out for symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, school activities with short outdoor periods such as recess should be safe, but for longer activities like athletics, kids may need more breaks and less intense activities.
The Champlain Valley School District, which includes schools in Shelburne, Charlotte, Hinesburg and Williston, said it was not making any changes to its typical 20-minute recess on Tuesday. Williston Central held physical education classes indoors for its third through eighth graders, according to Bonnie Birdsall, the district’s director of digital learning and communications.
Leon said Vermonters could use the agency’s AirNow.gov website to check the air quality in their area, along with more detailed recommendations for different categories of air pollution.
The Burlington Waterfront, though, appeared business as usual. School groups crowded around the Echo Leahy Center, blowing bubbles and running around the green amid a cool breeze.
“We’re just being mindful about checking in with students who have asthma or things like that, but there haven’t been any issues,” said Shaye Mchatten, a teacher at Swanton Elementary School. “It is weird though to have a sunny, bright day with no blue sky.”
The only noticeable difference from any regular Tuesday was the haze coating the Adirondacks in the distance. But it wasn’t enough to alarm passersby.
“The haze over the lake looks unusual but not harmful. I haven’t coughed once,” Dean Lande, 76, said after finishing a walk along the Lake Champlain shore.
Champlain Valley Union High School students Grace Thompson, Kaitlyn Jovell, Julie Pecor and Elise Berger even took the opportunity to picnic during the advisory. As part of the school’s two-week learning experience at the end of the school year, they are working on a project focused on outdoor adventures — the perfect opportunity to assemble a board of cheese, salami, strawberries and crackers.
The group was aware of the warning, but they were not too worried about its potential consequences, noting that they hadn’t heard anything about it from their school. The only weather-related update they had received was about a baseball game being bumped up from 4:30 to 3:30 p.m. due to impending rain.
Though fears about Tuesday’s conditions remained low among the four students, the likelihood that these events would happen more regularly in the future concerned them. Thompson cited the smog caused by California wildfires in 2020 as a wake up call.
“It’s different that it’s close,” Thompson said. “I always thought Vermont was untouchable to that.”
Correction: Bonnie Birdsall’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.