CRYSTAL LAKE – Smoke from forest fires in Canada created quite a stir Thursday when it settled across northern Illinois.
Whether the smoky haze lingers Friday in McHenry County depends on the extent of the fires and how long they persist, said Stephen Rodriguez, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service. Changes in the direction of the air flow, too, could be a factor.
"Just quickly looking at the upper level flow here, it looks as if there's a similar pattern where, if there was a fire that continued to persist, it could find its way down into our area in northern Illinois and northwest Indiana," Rodriguez said.
John Rehor, 42, of Cary said he recognized the smell of smoke as soon as he stepped outside Thursday morning. More specifically, he said he smelled a forest fire – a scent he remembers from spending time in northern Minnesota during his childhood.
"I kept waiting to hear a fire engine or something, but there was nothing," Rehor said Thursday afternoon. "You can still see the haze if you go outside."
A spokesperson from the National Weather Service said the smoke was coming from forest fires in Canada because of the direction of air flow.
"It’s no different than when there’s volcanic eruptions. You can get debris in the air – it just depends on the air flow, " the spokesperson said Thursday afternoon. "This is not unusual, per se."
Prairie Grove Police Chief Tony Colatorti said he only had received one call from the village Thursday morning, but he had heard many come through throughout McHenry County on radio traffic.
“We got complaints that people were doing some burns,” Colatorti said.
Colatorti said he remembered the same phenomenon occurring one other time during the time he has worked for the Prairie Grove Police Department. Rodriguez said it is not uncommon for smoke to travel when a fire is large enough.
"This is definitely not the first time, nor will it be the last time," Rodriguez said.
Dr. Daniel Nepomuceno, a Barrington-based pulmonologist and intensivist, said residents should treat the smoky haze like any other day when the air quality is poor.
He said people with chronic lung diseases, such as asthma and emphysema, could be at risk for worsening their conditions and should limit their exposure.
If symptoms occur, he said people might need to rely on an inhaler or medications associated with their conditions.
"On a day like this, where you have poor air quality, we encourage people to stay indoors in air conditioning, if possible, to lower their exposure," Nepomuceno said.
He also recommended people whose symptoms persist after going indoors should contact their physician or go to an immediate care facility. People with severe reactions or episodes should consider going to the emergency room.
The Prairie Grove Police Department sent out an alert at 11:22 a.m. Thursday that said, "Concerns with smoke and haze in the area today, winds are coming out from the north from Canada's wildfires." Officials from Lake in the Hills, McHenry and Crystal Lake sent out similar messages.
A state of emergency has been declared in the Canadian province of British Columbia because of an ongoing threat of wildfires, according to the province's emergency information website. A provincial state of emergency initially was extended July 19 and continues through Friday.