Governor Pat McCrory on Wednesday expanded a State of Emergency to help stop the spread of wildfires in western North Carolina as air quality officials continued their advisory for air pollution in the region. Smoke from numerous wildfires continues to cover much of the state, and residents in the mountains and foothills could experience unhealthy air quality, depending on wind directions.
The governor expanded the State of Emergency from 25 to 47 counties due to wildfires. The N.C. Forest Service has banned all open burning and cancelled burn permits in those counties.
About 17 wildfires have burned more than 69,000 acres of forests in Western North Carolina, and smoke from those fires can contain high levels of air pollution. Residents throughout the affected areas could be exposed to unhealthy levels of particle pollution. High particle levels can impair breathing and aggravate symptoms in people with heart and respiratory problems, and irritate the eyes and lungs in healthy individuals.
The state Division of Air Quality and the U.S. Forest Service have set up a number of mobile air monitors throughout the region, along with permanent air monitors in Asheville, Bryson City, Hickory, Charlotte and other locations. These monitors have measured unhealthy levels of air pollution in smoke downwind of wildfires.
For Thursday, forecasters have predicted Code Purple conditions, or very unhealthy, for McDowell County and the city of Marion. Everyone should avoid all outdoor activities in Code Purple areas.
Code Red conditions, or unhealthy, are forecasted for most of the mountains and foothills region, including the Asheville area. Code Orange conditions, or unhealthy for sensitive groups, are forecasted for the southwestern mountains and parts of the foothills. See the air quality forecast map for more details. Local air quality conditions can vary widely due to winds, the spread of fires and other weather factors. Residents should limit their time outside if they observe low visibility and odors due to smoke, which indicate that the air is probably unhealthy to breathe.
The forecast for Code Red areas means everyone should avoid or reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors, and sensitive groups should avoid any activity outside. 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. In Code Orange areas, sensitive groups should limit vigorous activity outdoors.
The N.C. Division of Air Quality issues daily air forecasts for much of the state. For more information, visit www.ncair.org or https://www.facebook.com/NCAQFC/ More information about particular wildfires can be found at http://ncjic.blogspot.com/ and http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/34/0/
Governor McCrory announced last week that the state is offering a reward of up to $10,000 to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for setting wildfires in western North Carolina. Many of the wildfires throughout the region are believed to have been man-made.
The 22 counties added to the State of Emergency include: Alleghany, Anson, Ashe, Cabarrus, Caswell, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Guilford, Iredell, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Randolph, Richmond, Rockingham, Rowan, Stanly, Stokes, Surry, Union, Wilkes and Yadkin. The 25 counties covered by the original State of Emergency include: Alexander, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Gaston, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga and Yancey counties.