How New York City can smell a fire in the Philly suburbs

    A scrap fire at a metal recycling facility in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, had residents of Brooklyn, New York, some 50 miles away, seeing and smelling smoke in their neighborhoods early Thursday morning.

    The fire began around 9 p.m. on Wednesday. Located on the 300 block of Steel Road in the Bucks County town, Sims Metal Management lies just across the Delaware River from Trenton.

    So far, there have been no reports of injuries.

    — "B" (@brianwert13) August 10, 2017

    Falls Twp Fire Chief Steve Lowden says scrap metal yard frequently has fires from car batteries etc @FOX29philly

    — Steve Keeley (@KeeleyFox29) August 10, 2017

    A fire chief at the scene, who spoke with Katherine Scott of Channel 6 Action News, says scrap fires are not uncommon, and there are plans in place for handling them. Cranes are often used to dig through mounds of scrap metal to uncover pockets of trapped heat, which firefighters continued to reveal throughout the early morning after the initial flames were brought under control around 3:30 a.m. Access to water or fire hydrants was limited, so tankers were brought in to provide water for putting out the fire. Falls Township Fire Chief Steve Lowden reported car batteries frequently start fires in the scrap metal yard, according to Steve Keeley of Fox29 News in Philadelphia. 

    New York City’s emergency management system issued a notice about the possibility of smoke on Thursday morning in response to complaints from residents in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.

    Due to emergency personnel operating at a fire in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, residents in NYC may see or smell smoke.

    — NYCEM – Notify NYC (@NotifyNYC) August 10, 2017

    This explains the smoky smell you’re experiencing in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, SI…. @WNYC

    — Shumita Basu (@shubasu) August 10, 2017

    But there were no signs of a smoky morning near Philadelphia, just about 30 miles away from Morrisville.

    How is that possible?

    NewsWorks/WHYY reached out to Robert Geist, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to explain.

    Geist says wind and other weather conditions can account for the travel and distribution of smoke. Because of the higher humidity and lower temperatures, smoke is denser in the morning, which causes the smoke to be pushed down. As the day goes on, humidity and temperatures rise, and the smoke begins to dissipate to form columns, rather than the fog that often forms in the morning.


    Geist says the smoke that traveled from Morrisville to Brooklyn can be compared to a fire that occurred in Wharton State forest of Burlington County, N.J., in mid-July. Approximately 1,000 acres of N.J.’s largest state forest burned, the smoke from which drifted as far as Monmouth County, roughly 60 miles away. Residents there reported that the air smelled like Christmas trees, which Geist explains was the smell of the pines burning in Wharton. When the winds shifted, Atlantic City to the south also began to experience hazy air and the smell of smoke.

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