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Experts say climate change could lead to more fires, smoky days in the future

Hazy skies are extending their stay in Indianapolis as smoke from Canadian wildfires continues to hang around the Hoosier State.

INDIANAPOLIS — Hazy skies are extending their stay in Indianapolis as smoke from Canadian wildfires continues to hang around the Hoosier State. The air quality alert for the area has been extended though Friday. 

"How long that smoke, those particles stay, depends very much on wind patterns," said Gabe Filippelli, executive director of the Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute. "So, it's almost like our wind keeps trying to blow this east of us, but it's not enough — there's just so much smoke coming down. I suspect it won't hover around Indianapolis that much longer, but certainly around the East Coast, it will remain."

With air quality index readings hitting unhealthy levels, Dr. Graham Carlos, a pulmonary care physician with Eskenazi Health, said being outside in this haze longer can create more inflammation in your airways and nasal passages. Limiting exposure, he said, is key. 

"Exercising outdoors is something you should try and limit. Other things – staying inside if you have trouble breathing from asthma, emphysema, or other conditions. Staying in that air conditioning – important. Windows up in the car, keep the air on because the filters may help you a little bit," Carlos said. 

Credit: AP
The sun rises over a hazy New York City skyline as seen from Jersey City, N.J., Wednesday, June 7, 2023.

Filippelli said these kinds of air quality issues from smoke and haze are becoming more common.

"We're seeing these extreme wildfire events happening more and more often recently, and it's suspected it's because, again, the drier conditions that can occur because of climate change, especially in these latitudes," Filippelli said. 

Because of climate change, Filippelli said these fires may soon become a more regular sight.

"The challenge is, we have very little control over the sources of these wildfires," Filippelli said. "And so, in a sense, I'm a little bit worried that we're seeing the face of the future: a very smoky, climate change-fueled future."

With the potential for more smoky days to come, Filippelli said people need to heed air quality alerts. When it comes to preventing future fires, he said, that's less simple.

"There can be some fire management techniques that can be done, particularly forest management techniques, but not really in this kind of setting," Filippelli said. "This is a natural phenomenon that is becoming, unfortunately, maybe our new abnormal."

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