Dry conditions, fires lead to burn ban

Posted June 22, 2011 9:54 a.m. EDT
Updated June 23, 2011 6:36 a.m. EDT

— Smoke from wildfires in eastern and coastal North Carolina shifted to the east Wednesday, but hot temperatures prompted more warnings about the air quality in the Triangle and eastern counties.

Southwesterly winds blew smoke from fires in Bladen, Pender, Dare and Hyde counties toward eastern counties and away from central North Carolina.

WRAL viewers said a smokey haze covered Atlantic Beach.

The Juniper Road Fire in Pender County, which has burned more than 18,200 acres, prompted some voluntary evacuations of homes west of U.S. Highway 17 between the Onslow County line and Sloop Point Loop Road. A shelter was opened at Topsail Elementary School at 17385 U.S. Highway 17 in Hampstead. 

In Bladen County, a separate fire has burned more than 1,350 acres. A third fire in Columbus County has burned about 45 acres. 

The increase in wildfire activity along the coast combined with drought conditions prompted the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources to issue a ban on open burning and cancel all burning permits for 27 eastern North Carolina counties, including areas south of U.S. 64 and east of Interstate 95, until further notice. 

They affected counties are Beaufort, Bladen, Brunswick, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Dare, Duplin, Edgecombe, Greene, Hyde, Johnson, Jones, Martin, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, Pender, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Tyrrell, Washington, Wayne and Wilson.

Although the clouds kept temperatures down Wednesday morning, they moved out in the afternoon, allowing temperatures to get into the mid 90s. High humidity made it feel as if it's over 100 degrees in some areas. 

“What made a different today was the rise in humidity,” WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said.

Between the heat and humidity, the Triangle and most of eastern North Carolina are under a Code Orange air quality alert through Thursday afternoon. That means that all people, including active adults and children and those with respiratory diseases, should limit their outdoor activities.

Some relief could come from evening showers. The Triangle has a 50 percent chance of at least 0.05 inches of rain within any three-hour period Wednesday evening.

A few storms could be strong, with large hail and wind gusts up to 40 or 50 mph.

Strong storms prompted severe thunderstorm warnings in some counties, including Harnett and Lincoln.

The heat and humidity will retreat somewhat after Wednesday.

The daily high will dip into the low 90s from Thursday to Saturday and into the upper 80s at the start of next week.

Each day also has at least a slight chance at afternoon and evening storms.

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