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The smoke from dozens of wildfires in the western United States is stretching clear across the country — and even pushing into Mexico, Canada and Europe. While the dangerous plumes are forcing people inside along the West Coast, residents thousands of miles away in the East are seeing unusually hazy skies and remarkable sunsets.

The wildfires racing across tinder-dry landscape in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington are extraordinary, but the long reach of their smoke isn’t unprecedented. While there are only small pockets in the southeastern U.S. that are haze free, experts say the smoke poses less of a health concern for those who are farther away.

The sun was transformed into a perfect orange orb as it set over New York City on Tuesday. Photographs of it sinking behind the skyline and glinting through tree leaves flooded social media. On Wednesday, New Jersey residents described a yellow tinge to the overcast skies, and weather forecasters were kept busy explaining the phenomenon and making predictions as to how long the conditions would last.

On the opposite coast, air quality conditions were among some of the worst ever recorded. Smoke cloaked the Golden Gate Bridge and left Portland and Seattle in an ashy fog, as crews have exhausted themselves trying to keep the flames from consuming more homes and even wider swaths of forest.

Satellite images showed that smoke from the wildfires has traveled almost 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) to Britain and other parts of northern Europe, scientists said Wednesday.

The current weather system, which favors a westerly wind across the higher levels of the atmosphere, is to blame for the reach of the smoke, experts explained.

“We always seem, at times, to get the right combination of enough smoke and the upper level jet stream to line up to bring that across the country, so we’re just seeing this again,” said Matt Solum with the National Weather Service’s regional operations center in Salt Lake City, Utah. “It’s definitely not the first time this has happened.”

There could be some easing of the haze this weekend as a storm system is expected to move into the Pacific Northwest and could affect the conditions that helped the smoke travel across the country. But Solum said there’s always a chance for more smoke and haze to shift around.

“Just due to all the wildfires that are going on, this is likely going to continue for a while,” he said. “You might have ebbs and flows of that smoke just depending on how the upper level winds set up.”

Kim Knowlton, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York City, said she woke up Wednesday to a red sunrise and more haze.

She said millions of people who live beyond the flames can end up dealing with diminished air quality as it’s not uncommon for wildfire smoke to travel hundreds of miles.

Although the health impacts are reduced the farther and higher into the atmosphere the smoke travels, Knowlton and her colleagues said the resulting haze can exacerbate existing problems like asthma and add to ozone pollution.

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Slain South Korean Man Tried to Defect to North Korea: Coast Guard

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) - The missing South Korean fisheries official killed by North Korean soldiers at sea last week had expressed his willingness to defect to the soldiers, South Korea's Coast Guard said on Tuesday.

The official's death sparked controversy after his older brother refuted the government's initial claim that he might have tried to flee to the North.

The Coast Guard said it has determined after an investigation based on CCTV footage, military intelligence and background records that the official told the North Korean troops he wished to defect and they were aware of his detailed personal information.

"We have confirmed that the North side had secured his personal information that he would only know, including his name, age, hometown and height, and that the missing person had conveyed his willingness to go to the North," said Yoon Sung-hyun, chief of investigation and intelligence at the Coast Guard.

Yoon said the possibility was "extremely low" that he had lost his footing or attempted to take his own life because he was wearing a life vest and a flotation device when found some 38 km (23.6 miles) away from where he went missing.

The man's brother, Lee Rae-jin, had said it must have been an accident as he had just got a new boat and no reason to defect.

Yoon said the official had run up debt of more than 58 million won ($49,600) but it was still unclear whether he sought to flee because of that.

The Coast Guard and Navy have expanded the search for the man's body involving dozens of ships after Pyongyang said the soldiers only burned a flotation device he was using, in an effort to head off the risk of a novel coronanvirus outbreak.

South Korea has accused the North of dousing his body in fuel and setting it on fire after killing the man, calling for a joint investigation.

Pyongyang remains silent about the joint probe as of Tuesday but leader Kim Jong Un has offered an apology. State media said the North was conducting its own search for the man's body but warned the South against raising tension by intruding into its waters.

($1 = 1,169.4200 won)

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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