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wildfires, California wildfires, wildfire smoke
Bill Husa/AP

Wildfire Smoke Spreads Across U.S.

July 31, 2008 07:57 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
Wildfire season is affecting people around the United States as smoke travels hundreds of miles and crosses several states.

30-Second Summary

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Where there’s smoke, there isn’t always fire. In fact, wildfire smoke can drift considerable distances.

Smoke from the California wildfires has created hazy skies in Idaho and Montana, in some instances prompting air quality alerts. The smoke can be especially troublesome for people with breathing difficulties.

“What’s dangerous about (smoke particles) is that they get deep inside the lungs,” said Alfred Munzer, former president of the American Lung Association. “Our lungs were just not made for this kind of dirt.”

Although smoke makes the days uncomfortable for some people, scientists say it may actually do some good as it heads toward the Arctic. Smoke creates a thin layer of aerosols, or liquid and solid particles, which blocks some of the sunlight reaching the surface and temporarily lowers temperatures.

Depending on how widespread the smoke is, the cooling effect could last weeks or months, according to National Geographic.

Scientists have feared that the ice in the North Pole could melt completely this summer.

Headline Links: California smoke travels miles away

Historical Context: How far will smoke spread?

Related Topics: Managing the health effects of smoke; Arctic warming

Coping with wildfire smoke
Smoke in the Arctic

Reference: Wildfire updates

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