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Smoke from Canadian fires blankets NY, New England

May 31, 2010

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LA TUQUE, Quebec—An acrid haze drifted over vast pockets of central Canada and the northeastern United States on Monday as smoke from scores of northern Quebec forest fires settled over the region.

At midday, more than 50 forest fires burned in northern Quebec, including eight that remained out of control.

The smoke was expected to ease Monday as the winds shifted, blowing the smoke back to the north, officials said.

About 100,000 acres of forest have burned since a May 25 thunderstorm ignited a series of fires. Residents of one central Quebec native community have been evacuated. Some individuals were evacuated because of health concerns, said Gerard Lacasse, a spokesman for in Quebec for the nonprofit Society for the Protection Against Forest Fires.

The fires follow an unusually dry spring.

"We've had more than 14 sunny days in a row," Lacasse said Monday. "It's very, very dry. It's a drought."

No homes have been destroyed and there have been no major injuries, Lacasse said.

In the U.S., the National Weather Service issued an air quality alert for northern Vermont and New Hampshire and all but extreme eastern Maine. A special weather statement was issued for New York's four northernmost counties.

In Massachusetts, an air quality alert extended from the central part of the state to every coastal county. The smoke was worst on Cape Cod and the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Ekster. He said the alert was in effect until around 8 p.m. Monday, when winds were expected to shift and blow the smoke out to sea.

Public health officials in Canada and the United States were urging people with respiratory problems to stay inside or avoid exertion outside where the smoke was heavy.

One fire, about 180 miles north of the St. Lawrence River community of Trois-Rivieres, forced about 1,300 people from the Wemotaci native reserve to spend a fifth night away from home.

About 1,200 firefighters, including some from Maine, New Hampshire and other Canadian provinces worked to extinguish the flames.

On Sunday, the smoke diminished visibility at the Quebec City airport to just over half a mile.

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