The blanket of smog carpeting much of the East Coast derailed training sessions, outings and sporting events at military bases across the region this week.
Clouds of thick haze generated by forest fires in Canada wafted southward, polluting thousands of square miles with toxic fumes and forcing millions to minimize their time outdoors. Heeding public health warnings from state and federal agencies, installations from Connecticut to Virginia curtailed routine operations to protect personnel.
Naval Submarine Base New London, Connecticut, suspended all physical training and sporting activities Thursday for 24 hours and recommended limiting any “strenuous activities to only mission essential tasks.” Fort Hamilton, located in Brooklyn, prohibited outdoor youth activities, shuttered its legal office and closed off its pool (its bowling alley, however, remained open); the base planned to resume normal operations Friday.
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, cycled personnel through its outdoor outposts to limit their exposure to the smoke; the facility temporarily closed its gates throughout the day Thursday to accommodate the rotations.
Military installations further south took on similar precautionary measures. Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, urged “sensitive groups” — children, the elderly and the ill — to avoid all outdoor physical activity. In Maryland, Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland called off a Thursday night recreational soccer showdown. Forts Detrick and Meade, and Belvoir in Virginia, all circulated cautionary announcements on their social media feeds.
Farther south in Maryland, Indian Head’s Fleet and Family Readiness program made a more weighty sacrifice, shutting down its Tiki Bar.
The worst of the smoke seemed to have subsided across much of the country. On Thursday evening, the Environmental Protection Agency deemed the air quality in much of New York state, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia to be “very unhealthy” or “hazardous.” By Friday morning, most of the warnings were downgraded to “moderate.”
As a result, many bases have resumed normal operations. A spokesperson from Dover AFB told Military Times that the base was “completely operational” as of Friday afternoon, though “the 436th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron is continuing to monitor the situation and is in lockstep with Dover AFB leadership to mitigate risks to Dover AFB personnel.”
At least 420 active fires — more than half of which are “out of control” — continue to rage across Canada, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. Meteorologists and climate experts expect some respite in the coming days, as shifting winds disperse the shroud elsewhere.
But with the ongoing environmental disaster north of the border, the answer to the question of whether more such shutdowns can be expected in coming weeks is simply blowing in the wind.
Jaime Moore-Carrillo is an editorial fellow for Military Times and Defense News. A Boston native, Jaime graduated with degrees in international affairs, history, and Arabic from Georgetown University, where he served as a senior editor for the school's student-run paper, The Hoya.