‘I can actually taste it in the air.’ Berkshire residents react to wildfire smoke, which forecasters hope will subside Friday


When Paul Derby and Michael Vigna decided to go for a walk Thursday along the Cheshire Reservoir, both men donned masks.

Their decision had nothing to do with lingering concerns about COVID-19. Rather, the Dalton men were worried about wildfire smoke that had drifted hundreds of miles down from Canada, turning the spring skies over the Berkshires a hazy brown and filling it with enough pollution to pose health risks for some people. 

“I can feel it on the back of my tongue — I can actually taste it in the air,” Derby said. 

Derby was wearing a mask in part due to his asthma and said the air quality has definitely affected his breathing.

Vigna said the leftover wildfire smell permeated the air while he did some yard work outside Wednesday.

“We were mailmen for 30 years, so we go outside,” Derby said. “We’re being careful though. I was going to powerwash my deck today, but how can I? The rain I’m not worried about, it’s the smog.”

For a third day in a row, Berkshire County residents continued to grapple with smoke the wildfires on Thursday but some relief appeared to be on the way.

“It’s pretty clear for [Friday] at least,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Dan Thompson said.

State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Edmund Coletta said the department hasn’t put out any air quality alerts for Friday. Thursday’s alert was set to expire midnight.

“Whether it goes past that is the next question,” Coletta said.

Despite light rainfall and the low air quality, at least 10 people were milling about a public access area for the Cheshire Reservoir along the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, walking their dogs, going for a stroll or fishing.



Smog/smoke follow

From left, Brandi Blondin, Stephen Blondin and Jared Blondin were fishing the Cheshire Reservoir on Thursday. Stephen said “it smelled like something was burning” when asked about the air quality. 




Stephen Blondin and his two kids — Jared and Brandi Blondin — of North Adams were fishing the reservoir on Thursday, and had just caught a fish when The Eagle approached.

Stephen also said “it smelled like something was burning” in North Adams on Wednesday.

“I paint, and I decided not to work yesterday. ‘No,’ I told them,” Stephen said. “I’m only good for four squirts on my inhaler for my lungs.” Stephen explained that he doesn’t have asthma but has other health issues that require an inhaler.

Jared, who is a firefighter in North Adams, said, “This isn’t bad at all.”

“I’ve been in much worse. But you can definitely smell it,” he said. “I was just at that fire on Morgan Ave., and I inhaled way worse than this.”



Hazy skies over the steeples of North Adams

Hazy skies over downtown North Adams on Tuesday as Quebec wildfires spark air quality alerts in the Berkshires and much of New England.



Jared coaches little league, and his team made practice optional with the haze ongoing due to parents’ concerns.

Outside Taft Farm in Great Barrington on Thursday afternoon, the temperature rose and the sky was clearing. Two employees said the impact was worse two days ago, but said they weren’t terribly bothered by it.

“After working outside all day you can definitely feel an itch in your throat,” said Justice Young. Carl Casey said he experienced a sore throat and coughing.

Austin Rapisarda, of New Marlborough, was shopping for plants at the farm and said the smoke hasn’t been an issue despite furiously gardening, having “just turned over a new patch.”

“I’ve been outside the entire time and it wasn’t until yesterday that I heard it was bad for me,” Rapisarda said.

According to Berkshire Medical Center spokesperson Michael Leary, the hospital’s emergency department has seen an uptick in respiratory illness, which may be a result of the wildfires.

“Fairview Hospital has not seen any increase at this time and BHS Urgent Care has also not at this time reported an increase in respiratory illness,” Leary wrote in an email. “BHS recommends following the guidance issued by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.”

In response to the diminished air quality, through Friday, Pittsfield Public Schools cancelled outdoor field trips and is requiring all students stay indoors for recess and PE.



Hazy skies over Williamstown

A view from Bee Hill Road in Williamstown looking east toward Mount Greylock as hazy conditions from the wildfires in Quebec impact air quality in the Berkshires and much of New England. Mountains and hills in the distance were mere outlines due to the haze.



A regular walking and running group in North Adams was cancelled Thursday because of the air quality. “I felt I would air on the side of caution,” Nancy Bullett, a group organizer, said in a message to The Eagle. “I was concerned for my friends, some of whom are in their 70s.”

The City of North Adams also canceled a concert Wednesday at Windsor lake citing air quality concerns.

John Rogan, a professor of geography at Clark University in Worcester said in an email the severity of the wildfires in Canada is unprecedented.

“This wildfire anomaly is caused by a prolonged drought and increased number of lightning strikes from storms,” Rogan said. “We can expect to see more burning this summer.”

Rogan added that the fire burning in Quebec is 18 times the size of the City of Worcester.

As of 2 p.m. Thursday, the air quality index in Pittsfield was 166, in North Adams, 145, in Dalton, 158, and in Williamstown, 134. A good AQI is anywhere from 0 to 50.

Measuring AQI involves detecting “fine particulate matter,” which are pollutant particles people can inhale, resulting in health issues.

Staff Writers Heather Bellow and Greta Jochem contributed to this report.

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