Air Quality officials continue health notice for Western North Carolina


RALEIGH – Air quality officials continued an advisory today for air pollution in parts of western North Carolina as smoke from a Burke County wildfire drifts downwind.

Residents in Avery, Burke, Caldwell, McDowell and Watauga counties could experience unhealthy air quality, depending on wind directions.

A 1,800-acre wildfire in the Pisgah National Forest is producing heavy smoke that could contain high levels of particle pollution. The fire is centered in the Linville Gorge Wilderness near Table Rock Mountain, and satellite photos show a large plume of smoke drifting downwind. Smoke could reach as far as Boone, Marion and Hickory.

The N.C. Division of Air Quality, or DAQ, does not have a monitor close to the fire, but previous measurements have found unhealthy air pollution levels in smoke directly downwind of wildfires. Some of the highest particle pollution levels that DAQ has ever measured were in smoke plumes from wildfires.

The primary pollutant of concern is fine particles, which are extremely small particles and liquid droplets in the air. Particles can be harmful to breathe and contribute to haze and other air quality problems.

The air pollution forecast for today and Saturday estimates that fine particle levels could exceed the standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over 24 hours. High particle levels can impair breathing and aggravate symptoms in people with respiratory problems, and irritate the lungs in healthy individuals. People with chronic lung ailments and children should reduce physical exertion and outdoor activity.

Today, residents in Avery, Burke, Caldwell, McDowell and Watauga counties could experience Code Orange conditions, which indicates the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups. Spotty smoke could be present in areas north of Interstate 40 in the western Piedmont and northwest mountains of the state.

The forecast 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.

Fine particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs and be absorbed into the bloodstream, causing or aggravating heart and lung diseases. People most susceptible to particle pollution include those with heart and respiratory conditions, the elderly and young children. Symptoms of exposure to high particle levels include: irritation of the eyes, nose and throat; coughing; phlegm; chest pain or tightness; shortness of breath; and asthma attacks. In extreme cases, particle pollution can cause premature death.

The N.C. Division of Air Quality issues daily air forecasts for the Triangle, Charlotte, Asheville, Hickory, Fayetteville and Rocky Mount metropolitan areas. In the Triad, forecasts are issued by the Forsyth County Environmental Affairs Department. For additional information, call 1-888-RU4NCAIR (1-888-784-6224) or visit the DAQ website at or Forsyth County’s website at,

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