Updated Jun 8, 2023 - News

D.C. issues Code Purple air alert as wildfire smoke upends life

Two people, one wearing a mask outdoors, are photographed with hazy skies in the background and partially obscured Washington monuments

Smoke from Canada descended on D.C. Photo: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Washingtonians are masking up again — but this time to go outside.

  • Forest fires as far as western Canada have spawned hazy skies and acrid air here, triggering unhealthy-air alerts that have canceled outdoor shows, shut down school recess, and derailed what promised to be a beautiful summer's day.

Driving the news: Conditions worsened on Thursday morning when D.C. officials dialed up from Code Red to Purple, known as "very unhealthy" air quality. Haze is expected to last at least through Friday afternoon.

Why it matters: The city urged all residents to stay indoors as much as possible, and those at particular risk include elderly populations and people with heart ailments and asthma.

State of play: Public schools in D.C. and several counties canned outdoor recess.

  • Concerts like The Wharf’s rock show on the water were canceled on Wednesday. A rooftop punk concert at the MLK Library was moved indoors — “with clean air!”
  • Hazy IPAs were the hot drink at bars, including Port City (which ran dry) and Trusty’s, which dreamed up an “Air Quality Code Red DC Special” with a Beer Hug Hazy IPA and rail Scotch shot. Places including Service Bar closed off outdoor patios.
  • Free masks were handed out at an outdoor movie screening of “The Devil Wears Prada” in NoMa.
  • The Nationals canceled their game against the Diamondbacks on Thursday, after playing the night before, when U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was in town to attend.

What they’re saying: Silver Spring resident Gianna Gronowski says she had clogged sinuses all day on Wednesday.

  • KN95 masks abounded on her Metro commute, she told Axios, and her officemates were coughing — “actively choking on air and we’re indoors.”

On a grocery run that morning, D.C. resident Bailey Reavis snapped a photo on 16th Street near Meridian Hill Park, showing a barely visible Washington Monument through the haze.

Photo: Bailey Reavis

A Colorado native, Reavis tells Axios she’s no stranger to wildfire smoke. But without a car in the city, her trip was inconvenient and hazardous.

Left: The usual view from Peter Mastrippolito's Arlington office. Right: The view on Wednesday. Photo: Peter Mastrippolito

The big picture: The EPA says breathing in unhealthy levels of smoke and other air pollution can increase a person's risk of developing lung and heart conditions, reports Axios’ Jacob Knutson.

  • Physical exertion outside that could cause heavy breathing should be avoided.
  • Using indoor air purifiers is encouraged, as is shutting all doors and windows in homes and apartments, writes Axios’ Andrew Freedman, noting that climate change is worsening wildfires.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout with new developments.


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