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June 06, 2023

Red flag warning, indicating elevated risk of fires, issued for Philly region as weather stays dry

At the same time, smoke from Canadian wildfires has filled the air here causing Pennsylvania officials to enact a Code Orange air-quality alert

Weather Wildfires
pa NJ wildfire risk @njdepforestfire/Twitter

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning Tuesday, June 6, for Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, meaning fires could easily be ignited due to dry, windy conditions. This photo shows the Flatiron wildfire in Burlington County, which has been contained.

As smoke from Canadian wildfires covers the skies of Philadelphia and reduces the region's air quality, meteorologists are warning residents the dry, breezy weather locally poses a heightened risk of fires igniting or spreading.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for Southeastern Pennsylvania and much of New Jersey between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday. The warning indicates "critical fire weather conditions," meaning the odds of accidentally starting a blaze are much higher and that fires could spread faster.

The haze filling the skies in the region is caused by smoke that has traveled in the atmosphere from the wildfires in Nova Scotia, Canada. This prompted the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to issue a Code Orange air-quality alert for the Philadelphia metro area, which is now in effect through Wednesday, June 7.

The haze is unrelated to the two wildfires in South Jersey: the 210-acre Flatiron fire in Medford, Burlington County and the Bass River State Forest fire in the Pinelands. Both fires were reported to be 100% contained over the weekend, but the red flag weather conditions in South Jersey, and elsewhere in the state, indicate there is a risk of starting new blazes.

The Bass River State Forest fire has burned more than 5,400 acres.

The NWS details in its red flag warning that low humidity and breezy winds have contributed to the fire risk. But the amount of water in vegetation, called fuel moisture, is also low, which is especially concerning; during a wildfire, plants serve as fuel for the blaze, so flames can burn longer if they're especially dry.

Dry thunderstorms, which carry lightning but little rain, are also on the forecast today, which could ignite new fires. NWS Mount Holly urged Philly and New Jersey residents to properly dispose of cigarettes; avoid parking cars on dry grass; avoid activities that involve open flames; do not use power equipment that creates sparks; and obey burn bans.

Pennsylvania's Code Orange alert signifies air pollution levels that are potentially dangerous for certain groups, like children, the elderly or anyone suffering from asthma or heart or lung disease; those people are advised to avoid outside exercise or strenuous activity.

DEP says Pennsylvanians should avoid using gas-powered yard equipment, wood stoves and fireplaces today to control the amount of fine particulate matter in the air. Burning leaves or trash can also worsen pollution and increase the risk of new fires.

NOTE: Portions of this story were edited after it was published.

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