State News

Wildfire smoke, odor reach Triangle

Posted June 11, 2008 10:40 p.m. EDT
Updated June 12, 2008 3:29 p.m. EDT

— State crews checked the air quality around an eastern North Carolina wildfire, while forecasters said a wind shift could blow smoke to Raleigh, Durham and Greensboro on Thursday.

WRAL viewers said smoke was creating haze and they could smell smoke in downtown Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Henderson and Franklin County on Thursday morning.

The National Weather Service confirmed their observations.

"Areas of smoke from a large wildfire over coastal North Carolina have spread westward into portions of central North Carolina this morning," the service's Raleigh office said in an advisory.

"County officials report that the smoke is not very dense but that the smell of the smoke is very strong. The very young, the elderly and people with respiratory difficulties should remain indoors as much as possible through mid-morning, when the smoke is expected to thin out."

Smoke reduced visibility on roads around Goldsboro, Nashville, Rocky Mount, Smithfield and Wilson to less than 2 miles, according to the weather service.

Forecasters said lighter winds will allow conditions to worsen overnight, and the smoky air could persist for days.

Air quality from Raleigh to Winston-Salem could be affected by smoke carried by winds blowing to the southwest, Bill Swartley, a spokesman for the State Forest Division, said in a statement.

In the map below, the wildfire's area is shown in red. Dark blue pins are where visibility is reduced. Light blue pins signal the presence of smoky conditions. Red pins denote areas under an Orange Alert air quality warning.

Field observers said the fire had burned about 39,779 acres, or about 62 square miles, and was about 40 percent contained, Swartley said. The figure was a revision of an earlier, slightly larger estimate Wednesday.

The North Carolina Division of Air Quality sent an assessment team to the area to check air quality

The agency issued a health notice for Thursday for areas west of the fire, including Fayetteville and Raleigh, due to fine particle pollution from the fire. The Code Orange warning means air quality is likely to be unhealthy for sensitive groups.

Authorities have ordered the evacuation of 50 homes in Hyde County since the fire began with a lightning strike June 1 in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, about 40 miles from the Atlantic coast.

The evacuated homes were near a wheat field ready for harvesting, fire spokesman Dean McAlister said. He said Hyde County emergency management officials have asked the field's owner to harvest the wheat, plow under the stalks and burn any remaining debris to lessen the fire danger.

"The size of it is amazing," wheat farmer Martin Gelderman said. "We're getting (the wheat) off in case there's any danger."

Rain fell on the fire Tuesday but was not enough to help for more than 24 hours. It has cost more than $1.7 million to fight the fire, not including assistance from local and federal agencies.

Nearly 450 fire personnel, including crews from Harnett County, were working the containment lines. A Wake County Emergency Medical Services team was helping local dispatchers handle fire-related 911 calls.

Separately, a fire in the Virginia portion of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was creeping toward North Carolina.

Refuge manager Chris Lowie told The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va., that a contractor's timbering equipment caught fire Monday afternoon. The fire began at about 30 acres and had grown to about 500 acres.