THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Wildfires in Quebec cast their pall into New England

Wind shift could clear the air today

On an unusually hazy day in May, the Boston skyline provided a smoky backdrop as boaters enjoyed Memorial Day on the Charles River. At one point, the Prudential building was not visible from the Allston-Brighton tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike. On an unusually hazy day in May, the Boston skyline provided a smoky backdrop as boaters enjoyed Memorial Day on the Charles River. At one point, the Prudential building was not visible from the Allston-Brighton tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike. (Dina Rudick/ Globe Staff)
By John M. Guilfoil and Stefanie Geisler
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / June 1, 2010

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The weather was perfect for a Memorial Day picnic: cloudless skies, low humidity, and temperatures in the 60s and 70s around Boston. So why then, from Framingham to Boston to the Cape, did the sky look like a bad day in Los Angeles and the air smell like burning wood?

The answer: dozens of wildfires burning about 100 miles north of Montreal, and 400 miles from Boston, that have sent plumes of smoke and haze southward.

Smoke from some 50 forest fires in Quebec lingered over Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont yesterday, leading some to fear local fires were breaking out, and prompting health officials to issue warnings.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection issued an air quality alert yesterday for Middlesex, Essex, Suffolk, Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes, northern Worcester, and eastern Norfolk counties.

“Basically, anybody that has any breathing problems or allergies to smoke should probably stay inside until the winds shift and blow the smoke out,’’ said Alan Dunham, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Taunton.

The forecast called for winds to shift last night, and the air should be clearer by this morning.

Dunham said winds began blowing from the north and northeast overnight yesterday. “That’s been blowing the smoke all the way across Eastern Massachusetts, including Cape Cod and the islands,’’ he said.

Eloise Levy, 58, of Orleans, said she woke to the smell of smoke, which she thought was coming from an electrical fire.

“I was just sure that there was a fire in the neighborhood and nobody knew it,’’ Levy said. “It was a very strong smell. It was throughout the house, not just outside.’’

Levy said she contacted the local fire department and was reassured.

“It was a very scary smell to wake up to,’’ Levy said. “I was glad my niece wasn’t here because she has asthma. I was thinking this is going to be hard for some people to breathe.’’

On the Cape near the Bourne Bridge, the smoke was so strong it triggered coughing and made eyes water.

The sky was a pasty yellow. Along the water in Yarmouth, there was no visibility at about 11 a.m., said Lisa Ward, 39, of Hyannis.

Tourists and residents celebrating the holiday on the Cape were buzzing about the smoke.

“It’s pretty amazing. Everyone’s talking about it,’’ said Nick Trainor, a Cambridge resident who spoke to a Globe reporter on Main Street in Hyannis. “Nobody can believe it came all the way from Canada.’’

In Boston, the smell of smoke remained in the air yesterday afternoon. The Prudential Building was shrouded by the haze, rendering it invisible from the Allston-Brighton tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Eight of the Canadian wildfires were classified as out of control yesterday.

About 1,200 firefighters, including some from Maine and New Hampshire, were continuing to battle the fires. After a very dry spell, about 100,000 acres of forest have burned since lightning from a May 25 thunderstorm ignited a series of fires. Residents of one central Quebec community have been evacuated.

The Vermont Department of Emergency Management said yesterday that the smoke was expected to clear late last night when the wind was expected to shift.

In New Hampshire, the Department of Environmental Services urged people who are sensitive to smoke to remain indoors and to avoid heavy exertion when outside.

Peter Schworm of the Globe staff, Globe correspondent Shana Wickett, and the Associated Press contributed to this report. John M. Guilfoil can be reached at jguilfoil@globe.com.

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