Smoke from the wildfires in Western North Carolina is affecting air quality in the Triangle, though not nearly as much as in the Asheville, Hickory and Charlotte areas.
State air forecasters issued a Code Orange for the Triangle on Friday, meaning people who are sensitive to air pollution should consider limiting prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors. With about 15 wildfires burning in the mountains, some of the smoke is making its way east, said Tom Mather, spokesman for the state Division of Air Quality.
“It’s pretty much affecting the whole Piedmont. We’re just sort of getting a little bit of it here, a little taste of it,” Mather said. “Later in the week we might see some higher levels depending on where the wind carries all that smoke.”
The National Weather Service expected winds to pick up out of the southwest on Friday and Saturday, increasing the chances that people in the Triangle would notice the smell of burning wood and brush in the air. That has happened, and the state’s warnings about air quality became more emphatic Friday in urging children, the elderly and other sensitive groups to limit time outdoors. The main concern is particulate matter – the tiny bits of dust and burned material floating in the air that can get deep into the lungs.
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In Cary, town officials sent out word that the smoky haze and odor was due to the forest fires and that “citizens should not call 911 about smoke unless they see a fire.”
There’s just this big, huge pool of smoke out there. We’re getting a small portion of that.
Tom Mather, spokesman for the state Division of Air Quality
But the smoke won’t be here long, said Ryan Ellis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh. A strong cold front is expected to arrive overnight Saturday into Sunday, with strong northwesterly winds that will sweep the smoke away.
“It will be quite cold and quite gusty on Sunday,” Ellis said.
The cold front is not expected to help firefighters, however. Forecasters say it will bring little or no rain to the region, even as the gusty winds fan the flames.
People in areas closer to the fires have been breathing the hazy smoke for days. Air quality forecasters issued a Code Orange for the Triad and Charlotte area for Friday, and Code Red in Asheville and the southern foothills, where even healthy people are urged to limit time outdoors.
Authorities think several of the wildfires burning in the mountains of Western North Carolina may have been deliberately set, and the state is offering a reward for information that leads to whoever set them.
Gov. Pat McCrory announced Thursday that the state is offering up to $10,000 to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of people who set any of nearly 20 wildfires still burning in the mountains. More than 46,000 acres have burned since late last month.
McCrory asked anyone with information about the fires to contact Macon County Crimestoppers at 828-349-2600 or Jackson County Crimestoppers at 828-631-1125.