Samoa safe from bushfire smog - for now

The brown-grey smoke pouring off the Australian bushfire-studded Australian continent is collecting at Samoa’s doorstep but seems unlikely to reach our skies, experts say. 

But that depends entirely on which way the wind blows. 

There were reports in the Australian media on Tuesday that smoke from the bushfires - which had painted New Zealand skies an apocalyptic-looking orange over the weekend - had begun to cross into corners of the South Pacific such as Fiji and New Caledonia. 

The American Government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s satellites even detected some of the smoke over parts of Chile and Argentina in South America, some 7,500 miles away. 

“Right now it seems that the majority of the smoke is just to the south of Samoa,” Assistant Professor Heather Holmes, an atmospheric scientist from the University of Reno, Nevada said in an e-mail interview. 

“There may be instances where the smoke is reaching (or could reach) Samoa based on the direction of the wind.

“Typically, the prevailing winds would not bring the smoke from the current Australian bushfires. Whether or not the smoke ends up in Samoa would depend on the local meteorology.”

But even in the less than likely event that smoke does reach Samoan shores, it’s unlikely to pose a health risk, according to Nava Fedaeff from New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

“I think that would be quite unlikely,” she said on Tuesday.

“A lot of the particles are being dispersed [as they leave Australia] and Samoa is quite far away. 

“But even the orangey New Zealand skies did not have a [measurable] impact on our air quality.”

The haze in New Zealand had prompted a flurry of calls to the nation’s emergency services. But its impact, Ms. Nadaeff said, was mainly confined to the horizon.

Over the weekend the smoke from fires burning across much of Australia blanketed the nation’s capital, Canberra, with a layer of hazardous smoke. 

The city had the worst air quality in the world for several days running as residents were confined to their homes and air filter masks were shipped in. 

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