State News

Wildfire smoke to clog skies, lungs through holiday weekend

Posted July 3, 2008 2:56 p.m. EDT
Updated July 4, 2008 8:46 a.m. EDT

— Two wildfires burning in the rural areas of eastern North Carolina are raising air quality warnings for holiday weekend travelers.

Officials said Friday the fire will continue to spew smoke through the weekend, creating unhealthy air in places around Elizabeth City. Some unhealthy air could spread as far as Kill Devil Hills.

The state Division of Air Quality predicts Code Red or Code Purple conditions in seven counties because of smoke from a wildfire in the Great Dismal Swamp and one in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

The poor air quality is forecast in all or part of these counties: Camden, Currituck, Hyde, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrrell and Washington.

The forecast means people who are sensitive to air pollution should avoid all physical activity outdoors. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

Residents of Chowan, Dare and Gates counties are under a Code Orange forecast. Sensitive groups, such as the very young or old, and people with heart conditions and respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema are advised to limit outdoor activity under those conditions.

About 350 firefighters continued to fight the blaze Thursday. The fire is about 75 percent contained, but is still burning at the Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge.

Hyde County farmer Randy Hubers has watched the fire destroy his crops. A shift in wind is a “concern,” he said.

Unhealthy air

In the map below, the red are indicates the fire zone, where more than 40,000 acres continue to burn deep into the ground. Red markers denote areas of worst air pollution. Yellow markers indicate areas where air is dangerous to sensitive groups – the very young or very old, and those with chronic lung diseases.

Protect yourself from wildfire smoke

  • Reduce time outdoors. This can provide protection, especially in a tightly closed house where the air-conditioner can re-circulate air instead of bringing in outdoor air.
  • Reduce time engaged in outdoor physical activity. This can be effective in lowering the dose of inhaled air pollutants.
  • Reduce other sources of indoor air pollution that can emit the same pollutants found in wildfire smoke. Indoor sources such as burning cigarettes, gas, propane and wood-burning stoves and furnaces, and activities such as cooking, burning candles and incense and vacuuming can greatly increase the particle levels in a home and should be avoided when wildfire smoke is present.

(Source: National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion)

The state Division of Public Health lists the symptoms of smoke exposure as:

  •   coughing
  •   scratchy throat
  •   shortness of breath
  •   irritated sinuses
  •   chest pain
  •   headaches
  •   stinging eyes
  •   runny nose

You can help

North Carolina Baptist Men Disaster Relief is providing showers, laundry services and food to firefighters in Hyde County. To donate to the relief effort, send a check to: NCBM Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 1107, Cary, NC 27512.