A 10-to-15-year management plan is under development for Pisgah and Nantahala national forests. Jack Igelman/Carolina Public Press

Press release from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources:

RALEIGH – Air quality officials issued a Code Orange advisory on Thursday for air pollution in parts of Western North Carolina as smoke from wildfires drift downwind.

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

Two wildfires in the Pisgah National Forest are producing heavy smoke that could contain high levels of particle pollution. The fires are in remote areas of McDowell County north of Interstate 40, covering more than 500 acres of land. Satellite photos show plumes of smoke drifting downwind. Spotty smoke could be present in areas north of Interstate 40 in the western Piedmont and northwest mountains of the state.

Elevated levels of particle pollution in Boone and Marion have been measured by air monitors operated by the N.C. Division of Air Quality due to smoke from the fires. The primary pollutant of concern is fine particles, or PM 2.5, which consists of 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 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.

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 if experiencing smoky conditions. People most susceptible to particle pollution include those with heart and respiratory conditions, the elderly and young children.

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 division’s website at www.ncair.org or Forsyth County’s website at http://www.co.forsyth.nc.us/EnvAffairs/.

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Angie Newsome is the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 774-5290 or e-mail her at anewsome@carolinapublicpress.org.

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