If you can see heavy haze and smell wildfire smoke, the air quality is not good and you should limit your outdoor activities when possible. Sensitive populations such as children, active people, older adults, and those with heart or lung disease (like asthma) can be more at risk and should take precautions.

Check your air quality

Look up detected fire/smoke

Additional resources are listed on the bottom of this page.

Sources of Smoke

Smoke can have several sources: Wildfires, prescribed (planned) burns, residential or commercial open burning, land clearing operations or illegal burning are common sources.

These fires are not equal, and the type of smoke and danger posed can vary depending on what is burning, when and where.

It can be difficult to determine the source of smoke in your area, as there is not a single resource in North Carolina that provides information on all fires occurring at any given moment. However, several data tools (available under "Resources & Data at the bottom of this page) are available to assist the public learn more about smoke in their community.

Types of Outdoor Fires

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A wildfire is a fire that is either unplanned or out of control that burns unchecked through combustible vegetation. Fires can grow and spread rapidly during dry, breezy weather conditions, which can hinder firefighting efforts. During periods of little rainfall and extended drought, vegetation can dry out which can elevate fire danger.

Wildfires in the western United States have become larger and more numerous in recent years due to this region experiencing an extended drought event. These large fires can cause damage to property and landscape, and lead to unhealthy air quality both locally and — if the fires burn long enough — across vast distances downwind.

The soot and smoke from wildfires is sometimes called particulate matter, or PM. The smallest particles, PM2.5, are 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair and can pass deep into the lungs and into the bloodstream, causing short-term health issues like coughing, asthma attacks and elevated heart rates. Wildfires produce far more PM2.5 than planned fires. Out of control wildfires may also burn artificial materials like buildings, releasing toxic chemicals.

A planned and controlled fire, known as a prescribed fire, removes leaf litter, fallen twigs and branches without burning adult trees. These fires release less heat and smoke than a wildfire, and the particulate matter produced is too large to get deep into the lungs.

Because prescribed burns are the best way to prevent wildfires, they are becoming a common tool to protect residents from harmful wildfire smoke. The best way to protect yourself from smoke from a controlled burn is to stay inside, where modern HVAC systems can filter the air.

In North Carolina, residents and businesses may sometimes burn yard and land-clearing waste outdoors. The N.C. Open Burning rule limits what can be burned and when.

An important part of the open burning rule prohibits the burning of trash or any man-made material. Burning artificial items can produce dangerous and toxic smoke. If you feel the source of the smoke is from an illegal open burn in your area where man-made materials are being burned, please contact your local air quality regional office for further assistance.

Health Impacts of Smoke

According to the EPA:

“The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis. Fine particles also can aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases. If you are healthy, you're usually not at a major risk from short-term exposures to smoke. Still, it's a good idea to avoid breathing smoke if you can help it.”

Keeping safe

If it looks smoky outside, it's probably not a good time to mow the lawn, go for a run, or for children to play outdoors. Reducing outdoor exertion or staying indoors can reduce your exposure to harmful air pollution. 

Learn how to make a DIY air cleaner with instructions from EPA. 

Know the Air Quality Forecast

When smoke is present, it's important to know what your local air quality is. 

Code Orange air quality represents air quality unhealthy for sensitive groups, including older adults, children, and people with existing health conditions. 

Code Red, Purple and Maroon air quality represents air quality unhealthy for everyone. 

Be sure to take appropriate action to keep yourself safe depending on the air quality in your area. 

Resources & Data

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Call (919) 707-8400 and ask for a member of the NC Air Awareness team, or send us an email: