Air quality forecasts help spread the word about smoke from wildfires

Friday, April 22, 2016 - 12:00am

DEQ is issuing special air quality forecasts for areas affected by smoke from the large wildfires that are burning in Brunswick and Hyde counties. The Hyde County fire quickly grew to a blaze covering about 14,000 acres of land along U.S. Highway 264 north of Engelhard. The Brunswick County fire spread across 1,500 acres close to the highly-populated Wilmington area.

Photo courtesy of the NC Forest Service

Meteorologists with the state environmental agency develop their forecasts with a range of tools – weather and air pollution measurements, satellite images showing smoke plumes, and computer projections of future wind and rain patterns. The color-coded forecasts show whether air quality is likely to be good (green), moderate (yellow), unhealthy for sensitive groups (orange), unhealthy (red) or very unhealthy (purple) -- based on expected 24-hour exposures to fine particles.

Air forecasts this week have called for Code Orange and Red conditions in areas downwind from the wildfires. That means people who are sensitive to air pollution should avoid or reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors. Sensitive groups include the elderly, children, people who work or exercise outdoors, and those with heart conditions and respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.

Photo courtesy of the NC Forest Service

Air quality forecasts are available online by visiting www.ncair.org. You can download a free smart phone app by searching for “EPA AIRNow,” or sign up to receive forecasts by email or Tweets through the air quality website.

Updates on firefighting efforts can be found at the NC Forest Service website.