British actress Jodie Comer complained she 'couldn't breathe' as she was helped off stage minutes into her Broadway show after toxic fumes from wildfires engulfed New York City.
The matinee performance of Prima Facie was halted after ten minutes on Wednesday, but was resumed with understudy Dani Arlington standing in for the lead role of Tessa.
It came after officials issued a code red 'stay inside' warning for more than 100million people across North America, as smoke from vast wildfires in Canada billowed down across the border - with the smog set to last until the weekend.
Audience members said the one-woman play about a defence barrister started ten minutes late.
Three minutes in, Comer, 30, is understood to have coughed, paused, and then told the stage manager: 'I can't breathe in this air', before being helped off stage.
Hundreds of forest fires have scorched 9.4million acres of land and forced 120,000 people from their homes in an unusually early and intense start to the wildfire season.
The skies above New York and many other North American cities grew progressively hazier through Wednesday, with an eerie yellowish tinge and the air smelling of burning wood.
British actress Jodie Comer had to be helped off stage minutes into a Broadway show as toxic fumes from wildfires engulfed New York City on Wednesday
Audience members said the one-woman play about a defence barrister started ten minutes late. Three minutes in, Comer (pictured on June 6), 30, is understood to have coughed, paused, and then told the stage manager: 'I can't breathe in this air'
The One World Trade Center tower in lower Manhattan in New York City is pictured shortly after sunrise as haze and smoke caused by wildfires in Canada hangs over the Manhattan skyline on June 8
This handout satellite image courtesy of NASA's Earth Observatory taken on June 7, 2023, shows smoke sweeping into New York and Pennsylvania
Pedestrians wearing face masks walk in New York on June 7, 2023. Smoke from raging wildfires in Canada has triggered air quality alerts in a number of US states
Speaking to Deadline, one theatregoer said the curtain came down and audience members were asked to remain seated while a decision was made over whether to continue.
They were told that the matinee would continue with Comer's understudy, Dani Arlington, who went on to complete the performance to enthusiastic applause, the showbiz magazine reported.
Its source said by the time the performance began again, many had left their seats seeking either tickets for a different date or a refund.
Nevertheless, those that stayed greeted the end of Arlington's performance with a loud standing ovation, they said.
Kim Savarino, an artist from Brooklyn, took to Instagram to praise Arlington.
'Had one of those NYC days,' she wrote on her Instagram stories. 'Saw @primafaciebroadwayplay and about ten minutes in Jodie Comer had to stop the show because she couldn't breathe in the smoky air.
'They closed the house curtain and did some stage management wizardry so they could start again an hour later - @daniarlington ate the f**k out of this role, and it was truly thrilling to be with her for those 100 minute (all hail the swings and understudies that keep theater together).
'Truly one of my favorite things about theater is the chaos and unpredictability and liveness of it all, and this was a genuine bright spot in the apocalyptic hellscape that is NYC today,' she wrote.
Not everyone was happy with the substitution. 'We came to see Jodie Comer,' one person wrote in Twitter. 'She started show. Had to stop for air quality. Now want us to see understudy. What is refund policy? Exchange? We came and paid high price to see Jodie.'
Comer's performance was not the only disruption due to the smog yesterday as Hamilton and Camelot cancelled Wednesday performances on Broadway.
And it was not to be at Central Park's outdoor stage, either. Shakespeare in the Park cancelled its Thursday and Friday performances of Hamlet, saying 'tis not nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of wretched air'.
Major League Baseball's Yankees and Phillies had their games postponed.
A National Women's Soccer League match in Harrison, New Jersey, was also rescheduled, as was a WNBA women's basketball game in Brooklyn.
Travel was also disrupted. Federal officials paused some flights bound for New York's LaGuardia Airport and slowed planes to Newark and Philadelphia because smoke was limiting visibility.
And with weather systems expected to hardly budge, the smoky blanket billowing from Quebec and Nova Scotia and sending plumes of fine particulate matter as far away as North Carolina should persist into Thursday and possibly the weekend.
A map showing the air quality over the east coast of the United States, with purple indicating 'very unhealthy' conditions
A man runs in front of the sun rising over the lower Manhattan skyline in Jersey City on June 8, with hazy conditions continuing
A view of the yellow-tinged city as smoke from Canadian wildfires swept into New York on June 7
People venture out onto the street despite the poor air quality and warnings to stay inside
A person wearing a face mask takes photos of the skyline as smoke from wildfires in Canada cause hazy conditions in New York City on June 7
Pedestrians covering their mouths venture out onto the street in New York on June 7
The World Trade Centre is seen through the smoke in New York City on June 7
A view of the hazy city during bad air quality in New York, United States, on June 7
Tourists were not put off taking snaps at Times Square in New York City as smoke from wildfires in Canada spread across the north east of the United States on June 8
Meanwhile, concerns have been raised about the potential adverse health effects of prolonged exposure to such bad air quality.
Wildfire smoke has been linked with higher rates of heart attacks and strokes, increases in emergency room visits for asthma and other respiratory conditions, eye irritation, itchy skin and rashes, among other problems.
How to stay safe during wildfire smog
With smoke pouring across the border from Canada, air quality warnings are in effect for more than 100 million people in the US.
An online calculator suggested breathing in the air in New York City for 24 hours is equivalent to smoking 22 cigarettes.
Here are some ways you can stay safe during wildfire smog from the National Weather Service in New York:
- Stay Indoors: The best way to avoid exposure is by staying inside when smoke levels are high
- Close Windows or Doors: Keep your windows and doors shut to prevent smoke from entering your home. 3. Use Air Purifiers: They can help remove particles from indoor air
- Wear Masks: If you must go outside, wear an N95 or P100 mask that can filter out most particles
- Use a Damp Cloth: If you don't have a mask, breathe through a damp cloth to filter out some smoke particles
- Check Air Quality: Keep an eye on local air quality conditions to know when it's safe to go outside by going to airnow.gov
- Avoid Outdoor Exercise: Physical activity increases your inhalation rate, so try to avoid it when smoke levels are high
- Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids to help keep your respiratory tract moist, which can help you tolerate the smoke
- Maintain Your HVAC System: Regular maintenance can improve your HVAC system's efficiency in filtering indoor air
- Recirculate Your Air: Whether indoors or in your car, make sure your A/C or fan is set to 'recirculate' the air, so smoke particles in the air can get filtered out
- Use HEPA Filters: High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters can be more effective at removing fine particles
- Ventilation: When the air quality improves, open windows or use exhaust fans to ventilate your home
- Seal Gaps and Cracks: Seal any gaps or cracks in windows and doors to prevent smoke infiltration.
- Keep Pets Inside: Just like humans, pets can also be affected by smoke, so try to keep them indoors when the air quality is poor
- Know the Symptoms: Understand the signs of smoke inhalation (like difficulty breathing, persistent cough, etc.) and seek medical attention if needed
Source: NWS New York
The weather system that's driving the great Canadian-American smoke out - a low-pressure system over Maine and Nova Scotia - 'will probably be hanging around at least for the next few days,' US National Weather Service meteorologist Bryan Ramsey said.
'Conditions are likely to remain unhealthy, at least until the wind direction changes or the fires get put out,' Ramsey said.
'Since the fires are raging - they're really large - they're probably going to continue for weeks. But it's really just going to be all about the wind shift.'
Across eastern USA, officials warned residents to stay inside and limit or avoid outdoor activities again Thursday.
They extended 'code red' air quality alerts in some places for a third-straight day as forecasts showed winds continuing to push smoke-filled air south.
In some areas, the air quality index (AQI), which measures major pollutants including particulate matter produced by fires, was well above 400, according to Airnow, which sets 100 as 'unhealthy' and 300 as 'hazardous.'
At noon, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was recording the nation's worst air quality index, with an AQI reading of 410.
Among major cities, New York had the highest AQI in the world on Wednesday afternoon at 342, about double the index for chronically polluted cities such as Dubai (168) and Delhi (164), according to IQAir.
In Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered schools to cancel outdoor recess, sports and field trips Thursday. In suburban Philadelphia, officials set up an emergency shelter so people living outside can take refuge from the haze.
New York Govenor Kathy Hochul said the state was making a million N95 masks - the kind prevalent at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic - available at state facilities, including 400,000 in New York City. She also urged residents to stay put.
'You don't need to go out and take a walk. You don't need to push the baby in the stroller,' Hochul said Wednesday night. 'This is not a safe time to do that.'
The message may be getting through.
As of Wednesday, New York City has yet to see an uptick in 911 calls related to respiratory issues and cardiac arrests.
US private forecasting service AccuWeather said thick haze and soot extending from high elevations to ground level marked the worst outbreak of wildfire smoke to blanket the Northeastern US in more than 20 years.
New York's famous skyline, usually visible for miles, appeared to vanish in an otherworldly veil of smoke, which some residents said made them feel unwell.
'It makes breathing difficult,' Mohammed Abass said as he walked down Broadway in Manhattan. 'I've been scheduled for a road test for driving, for my driving license today, and it was canceled.'
The smoky air was especially tough on people working outdoors, such as Chris Ricciardi, owner of Neighbor's Envy Landscaping in Roxbury, New Jersey.
He said he and his crew were curtailing work hours and wearing masks they used for heavy pollen.
'We don't have the luxury to stop working,' he said. 'We want to keep our exposure to the smoke to a minimum, but what can you really do about it?'
A passenger waits as the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warned travelers to expect flights to be delayed at LaGuardia airport in New York City on Wednesday, June 7
Smoke billows upwards from a planned ignition by firefighters tackling the Donnie Creek Complex wildfire south of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, Canada, June 3
Smoke billows upwards from a planned ignition by firefighters tackling the Donnie Creek Complex wildfire south of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, Canada, June 3
Smoke from the Tantallon wildfire rises over houses in nearby Bedford, Nova Scotia, May 28
Angel Emmanuel Ramirez, 29, a fashion stylist at a Givenchy outlet in Manhattan, said he and fellow workers began feeling ill and closed up shop early when they realized the smell of smoke was permeating the store.
'It's so intense, you would think the wildfire was happening right across the river, not up in Canada,' Ramirez said.
Reduced visibility from the haze forced the Federal Aviation Administration to slow air traffic into the New York City area and Philadelphia from elsewhere on the East Coast and upper Midwest, with flight delays averaging about a half hour.
Schools up and down the East Coast called off outdoor activities, including sports, field trips and recesses.
A Home Depot store in Manhattan sold out of air purifiers and masks. New York Road Runners canceled events intended to mark Global Running Day.
Tyrone Sylvester, 66, playing chess in Manhattan's Union Square as he has on most days for 30 years, but wearing a mask, said he had never seen the city's air quality so bad.
'When the sun looks like that,' he said, pointing out the bronze orb visible through the smoky sky, 'we know something's wrong. This is what global warming looks like.'
More than 400 blazes burning across Canada have left 20,000 people displaced.
The US has sent more than 600 firefighters and equipment to Canada. Other countries are also helping.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to President Joe Biden by phone on Wednesday. Trudeau's office said he thanked Biden for his support and that both leaders 'acknowledged the need to work together to address the devastating impacts of climate change.'
Canadian officials say this is shaping up to be the country's worst wildfire season ever. It started early and on drier-than-usual ground and accelerated quickly.
Smoke from the blazes has been moving into the US since last month but intensified with recent fires in Quebec, where about 100 were considered out of control on Wednesday.
'I can taste the air,' Dr Ken Strumpf said in a Facebook post from Syracuse, New York, where the sky took on the colorful nickname of the local university: Orange.
The smoke was so thick in Canada's capital, Ottawa, that office towers just across the Ottawa River were barely visible. In Toronto, Yili Ma said her hiking group canceled a planned hike this week, and she was forgoing the restaurant patios that are a beloved summer tradition in a nation known for hard winters.
Smoke and wildfires are seen in this satellite image taken on June 8 over Canada
A waterbomber drops water onto the Cameron Bluffs wildfire near Port Alberni, British Columbia, Canada, on Tuesday, June 6
'I put my mask away for over a year, and now I'm putting on my mask since yesterday,' Ma said.
Eastern Quebec saw rain on Wednesday, but Montreal-based Environment Canada meteorologist Simon Legault said no significant rain is expected for days in the remote areas of central Quebec where the wildfires are more intense.
Ironically, Canada marked its annual Clean Air Day on Wednesday, an occasion created in 1999 as part of Canadian Environmental Week to 'recognize how important good air quality is to our health, our environment, and the economy.'
The country's government took the opportunity to use the day to remind residents that 'air pollution knows no boundaries.'
Air pollution cloaks eastern US for a second day. Here's why there is so much smoke:
Intense smoke blanketed the north-eastern United States for a second day on Wednesday, turning the air a yellowish gray and prompting warnings for people to stay inside and keep windows closed. The smoke was flowing from dozens of wildfires in several Canadian provinces.
Much of the air was in the 'unhealthy or worse categories in areas from the mid-Atlantic through the Northeast and parts of the Upper Great Lakes', according to an advisory issued by the Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday night.
US authorities issued air quality alerts in multiple regions and smoke was expected to persist for days.
Conditions were especially bad in parts of central New York, where the airborne soot was at hazardous levels. In New York City, officials on Wednesday said everyone should stay indoors. The conditions arrived late Tuesday afternoon, obscuring views of New Jersey across the Hudson River.
Here's a closer look at what's happening and what's in the smoke:
GENESIS OF THE SMOKE
The sun rises over a hazy New York City skyline as seen from Jersey City, N.J., Wednesday, June 7, 2023 (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Unusually hot, dry weather gave rise to the wildfires.
'The month of May was just off the charts - record warm in much of Canada,' said Eric James, a modeling expert with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science at the University of Colorado, who is also with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A warming planet will produce hotter and longer heat waves, making for bigger, smokier fires, according to Joel Thornton, professor and chair of the department of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.
The Quebec-area fires are big and relatively close, about 500 to 600 miles from Rhode Island and they followed wildfires in Nova Scotia.
'I don't remember fires of this scale in the last ten years,' James said of the Quebec blazes.
WHY IS SMOKE REACHING SO FAR AWAY?
Strong winds high up in the atmosphere can transport smoke long distances and it's common for large, violent fires to create unhealthy conditions hundreds of miles away from where forests are burning.
But the right mix of circumstances had to align for the smoke to blanket major US cities: A dry, hot spring set the stage. Then weather did the rest, said Bob Henson, meteorologist with Yale Climate Change Connections.
In Canada, air is circulating counterclockwise around a low pressure system near Nova Scotia. That sends air south over the fires in Quebec. There the air picks up smoke, and then turns east over New York state, carrying smoke to the eastern seaboard.
'It's a simple matter of trajectory,' Henson said. 'The smoke goes where the wind takes it.'
This wind pattern isn't particularly rare. But the confluence of events is.
'The timing of this weather patterns is unfortunately overlapping with a situation that was ripe for large fires,' Thornton said.
Weather patterns change and the worst conditions should only last a day or two. Some smoke, however, could linger for a week or more, according to James.
WHAT IS SMOKE?
Although smoke seems familiar, it is actually made up of a complex mix of shapes, from round to corkscrew-shaped under the microscope.
'It's not just one sort of chemical,' said Rima Habre, an expert in air quality and exposure science at the University of Southern California. 'It could have gases and carbons and toxic metals.' As it travels, Habre said, it also changes and can contain ozone.
Much of what we see in the air and measure is small particles, or PM 2.5. These are so small they can get deep into the lungs, where oxygen enters your circulation.
'Mostly we worry about inflammation in the lungs,' Habre said, from these high levels of pollution. But with climate change amping up fires, increasingly, she said, she is worried about broader numbers of people being exposed to less extreme smoke for weeks or months.
'Most healthy adults and children will recover quickly from smoke exposure and will not have long-lasting health effects,' according to the EPA advisory. But that is less true for a large category of people, including children whose lungs are still developing, older adults, and people with lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Stay inside, keeping your doors, windows and fireplaces shut, is the advice. Air conditioning on the recirculation setting can help filter out some particles, and air filters can remove many more.
Reporting by AP