JUST IN: Code Red air quality from Canada wildfires possible tomorrow

I-66 in Oakton during hazy conditions on June 7 (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 9:30 p.m.) A Code Red Air Quality alert has been issued for the D.C. region.

In Fairfax County, conditions are expected to worsen to an air quality index (AQI) rating of 164 tomorrow (Thursday), due primarily to particulate matter drifting down to the U.S. from ongoing wildfires in Canada, according to AirNow’s air quality forecast.

A Code Red — which is a step higher than the Code Orange seen today — “means air quality is unhealthy for everyone in Fairfax County and the region,” the county said in a post on its emergency information blog.

With hundreds of wildfires reportedly blazing in Canada, particularly Quebec and British Columbia, the area’s air quality will likely continue to fluctuate “over the next several days,” the county says.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is encouraging residents to limit their outdoor activities as much as possible.

“If outdoor activities cannot be rescheduled, the EPA recommends limiting time outdoors, taking frequent breaks indoors in places where the air is clean, and choosing a mask that will protect you like an N95,” COG said.

The Fairfax County Park Authority has canceled many outdoor activities for the day, including summer camps and classes, and outdoor water parks and pools will be closed.

The AQI is currently forecast to drop to 84 — a Code Yellow — on Saturday (July 1), according to AirNow, which uses data reported by the Environmental Protection Agency and other local, state and federal government entities.

It doesn’t look like the pollution will quite reach the concentrations seen in early June, when the D.C. area recorded its worst air quality on record as a result of Canadian wildfires.

According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, three new fires started today, and there are 476 active blazes, about half of which remain out of control. The agency has recorded 2,988 fires in 2023 so far that have burned through 8 million acres of land.