By Michelle Watson, Derek Van Dam and Emma Tucker, CNN
(CNN) — Smoke and haze from wildfires raging in Nova Scotia will linger in portions of the US Northeast on Wednesday, prompting air quality alerts for New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including the Philadelphia area.
The National Weather Service has issued a Code Orange air quality alert for Philadelphia and surrounding areas.
The alert means air pollution concentrations in the region may become unhealthy for sensitive groups, including the elderly and young children. Those groups should minimize time outdoors and avoid strenuous activity.
The smoke may be close enough to the ground that the affected area will see several hours with elevated concentrations of “fine particulate matter.”
These microscopic particles have a diameter of less than 2.5 microns – significantly smaller than the average width of a human hair. Their tiny size allows them easier access deep into lungs, which can exacerbate the effects of respiratory diseases such as asthma.
The fires, which are continuing as the Canadian region struggles with record-breaking heat, have spanned more than 25,000 acres, destroyed buildings and produced huge plumes of smoke. Officials announced a provincewide burn ban Monday due to the “seriousness of the current fires.”
The smoke was making its way over Cape Cod and was expected to spread north and west as winds shift to the southeast, the weather service in Boston said in a statement Tuesday. “Those with a sensitive nose may be able to smell the smoke as it pushes through the region,” the agency said.
A fire burning in Halifax, the provincial capital of Nova Scotia, was “not yet under control” Tuesday and has forced around 16,500 people to evacuate, according to Halifax Regional Municipality officials.
On Wednesday, the municipality announced the closure of all wooded areas, parks and trails amid the ongoing fires. The closings went into effect at 8 a.m.
At least 14 schools in Halifax will be closed Wednesday, officials announced in an update Tuesday evening, as wildfires remain out of control.
Residents are still advised to avoid the evacuation areas as at least 200 structures suffered damage from the fires, Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Deputy Chief Dave Meldrum said on Tuesday, adding the fires have not yet been contained.
“Please don’t return to the evacuated area. It’s still a dangerous place. It’s not ready for you yet,” Meldrum added.
“I am praying for any type of precipitation at this point, and I know everybody up here shares in that thought,” David Steeves with the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables said in a news conference on Tuesday.
Steeves said the possibility of wildfires spreading more quickly is increasing every day. There is no rainfall expected in the coming days for the area, according to CNN meteorologists, but as of Tuesday evening, the forecast called for a chance of rain at the end of the week.
“Weather is not helping us at all in regard to this,” Steeves said.
‘For God’s sake, stop burning,’ officials say
Eight of the 13 wildfires burning in Nova Scotia started on Monday, three of which were “out of control,” Scott Tingley, manager of forest protection for the region’s Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, said during a Tuesday news conference.
The five remaining active wildfires were “small,” and authorities have contained them, Tingley said.
During the news conference, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston reminded residents of the provincewide burn ban, saying it was “absolutely ridiculous” that at least six illegal burns were found on Monday by conservation officers.
“Don’t be burning right now. No burning in Nova Scotia,” Houston said. “For God’s sake, stop burning. Stop flicking your cigarette butts out your car window. Just stop it.”
The ban is expected to stay in place until June 25, “unless the Province determines it can be lifted sooner,” officials said in a news release on Monday.
“Our resources right now are stretched incredibly thin right now fighting existing fires,” Houston said.
Every household required to evacuate will receive $500 administered through the Canadian Red Cross, according to the release. The funds are intended to help with what Houston called “urgent needs such as food and personal care items.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the wildfires “incredibly serious” in a tweet Monday.
“We stand ready to provide any federal support and assistance needed,” Trudeau said. “We’re keeping everyone affected in our thoughts, and we’re thanking those who are working hard to keep people safe.”
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CNN’s Monica Garrettt, Zoe Sottile, Sara Smart and Robert Shackelford contributed to this report.