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New Jersey raises air quality alert to "unhealthy" due to smoke from Canada wildfires

Air quality sends New Jersey residents scrambling to find air purifiers
Air quality sends New Jersey residents scrambling to find air purifiers 01:55

HOBOKEN, N.J. -- As the Canadian wildfires continue to cover our area with hazy smoke, New Jersey officials have upgraded their air quality alert to "unhealthy."

The alert, previously declared for Wednesday, has also been extended to include Thursday.

An eerie haze enveloped Hoboken, seemingly getting thicker by the hour. 

"I swear it gets more yellow by the second," one person said. 

At the Ainsworth, there was no outdoor dining, and masks were back on for the staff. 

"Of course, we would love to have it outside as the weather is 77 degrees, but thankfully inside we have a good amount of seats," said event manager Ava Sullivan. 

Gov. Phi Murphy declared an Air Quality Action Day, strongly advising residents to stay indoors. He said his team is "vigilantly" monitoring the wildfires and the impact here at home.  

"We made the decision to close state offices at 3:30. We're - as your colleagues have said - young kids, seniors kids, anybody with heart or lung issues to stay inside," Murphy said. "Encouraged all schools to suspend outdoor extracurricular activity. The Port Authority has our bridge traffic limited to 30 miles an hour due to visibility. It's not good."

"We're seeing patients who have asthma, COPD coming in with increased symptoms," Dr. Vino Palli, attending physician and CEO of Mi Doctor Urgent Care said. 

Palli said more and more people are coming in and calling. 

"Smoke is a very harmful thing to your body, especially if you're suffering from cardiovascular diseases, respiratory illnesses," Palli said. 

In Paterson, a spike in respiratory 911 calls prompted an increase in ambulance presence on the street. 

"We're seeing a big spike in respiratory calls, and we want to make sure that nobody ever has to wait for an ambulance here. Especially when you're talking respiratory, you're talking very much immediate life danger," Paterson Fire Chief Brian McDermott said.

An Air Quality Action Plan is in place. Masks will be passed out in the city. 

Pulmonologist Dr. Jason Shatkin works in intensive care units in New Jersey, and said his private practice has been inundated with 20-30 calls a day, when normally they would have 2-3. 

"Both patients who have chronic respiratory issues as well as patients that don't have any history of having respiratory issues at all," Shatkin said. 

"Close all windows. Use air conditioning, use HEPA filters if you have," Valli said. "If you go out, hydrate yourself. Wear a mask." 

Schools in Clifton and West Orange canceled outdoor recess and other activities.   

"Please be assured that air purifiers will continue to run throughout the day in individual classrooms. We will monitor the air quality conditions and make a decision regarding after-school sports and activities tomorrow," Clifton Schools said in a statement. "While not anticipated at the moment, please be prepared in case conditions deteriorate and require us to call for an early dismissal from school."

One local baseball team wasn't slowing down, however.

With a state championship title on the line, the Don Bosco Prep team wasn't letting dangerous weather get in the way of their craft.

They normally practice at their school's field in Ramsey, but Wednesday evening, they had to drive in traffic about 45 minutes to get to the indoor space where they practice whenever there is inclement weather.

"A couple of modifications being in the space that we're in, but same practice plan as usual," player Nick Locurto said.

"It's definitely great when you have coaches that have their own facilities and stuff. It's a really great help when we have inclement weather," player Allen Hernandez said.

There were no air quality issues inside, and players didn't have to wear face masks to protect their lungs. They put in a good couple of hours Wednesday evening, making sure everyone is feeling their best before Thursday's big game.

"For the New Jersey state championship against a really good opponent, Red Bank Catholic, so we're really looking forward to it. Hopefully ... weather permitting, I guess, but hopefully we'll get it in. It'd be nice for this group. We played in the state championship last year, and we won it. It'd be nice for this group to not only get back to it a second time, but to also win it a second time. This is the group that came in with COVID, and now they're going out with wildfires," head coach Mike Rooney said.

Watch Alecia Reid's report

Don Bosco Prep moves practice indoors amid air quality issues 01:48

Their game is Thursday at 7 p.m.

The toxic air sent people scrambling to find air filters and purifiers for their homes.

Roberto Guerrero says he struck out at six different stores before finding the last air purifier on the shelves at the Rutherford Lowe's.

"This is getting to the point where it's ridiculous. Can't find an air purifier nowhere," he said.

Although the box was already open and it was much smaller than what he needed, he took it.

"I'm trying to protect my family. This is my main concern," he said.

In the parking lot, Miguel Ribeiro was securing the air filter he went searching for. It's recommended to change filters every three months, but he said his family may have let it go longer.

"I don't even know the last time we changed them," he said.

Meanwhile, smoke from another wildfire in New Jersey's Bass River State Forest is also causing air quality concerns. 

The fire has burned through about 5,000 acres and was 50% contained as of Thursday night, CBS Philadelphia reports. Winds are blowing the smoke into Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties.

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