Wildfire smoke in western North Carolina may be producing unhealthy air quality in at least five counties, and residents are urged to take precautions.
Cherokee, Clay and Macon counties may experience Code Red air quality conditions, defined as air that is unhealthy for anyone to breathe. Residents should consider limiting prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors in these areas. Anyone sensitive to air pollution, including children, older adults and people with asthma, should avoid outdoor exertion.
Additionally, Graham and Henderson counties and the southern mountain ridgetops in this area are forecast to have Code Orange air quality, which is unhealthy to groups sensitive to air pollution. Children, older adults and people with asthma should limit prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors during Code Orange conditions.
The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality (DAQ) issued these Air Quality Action Day alerts in response to ongoing wildfire activity in the area that began late last week. The Collett Ridge wildfire in Cherokee County and its smoke plume remains visible in satellite imagery. The Poplar Drive fire in Henderson County may also be causing smoke impacts in the area.
Smoke can carry elevated levels of fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, which consists of particles smaller than the width of a human hair. These particles can reach deep in the lungs and aggravate asthma and other lung conditions and have been linked to heart conditions.
The current air quality forecasts are valid until midnight on Monday, Nov. 6. Each day, DAQ meteorologists will issue the next day’s air quality forecast by 3 p.m. As dry conditions persist in western North Carolina, residents are encouraged to monitor the latest air quality information by visiting the Air Quality Portal online.
DAQ monitors and forecasts ozone and PM2.5 daily using the Air Quality Index (AQI), along with the corresponding AQI color codes to help North Carolinians plan their outdoor activities. Next-day and extended products are issued by 3 p.m. with a morning update by 10 a.m. Air quality in the nine-county Triad region is forecasted by the Forsyth County Office of Environmental Assistance and Protection.
State law prohibits the open burning of residential yard waste or land clearing debris on Air Quality Action Days of Code Orange or above. To report violations of the open burning rules, contact the DAQ regional office that serves your county. This restriction is in addition to any local burn bans that may be in place. The N.C. Forest Service on Sunday issued a burn ban for 14 western counties.
Residents should continue to monitor air quality in their area throughout this week as conditions evolve. For the latest air quality information statewide, visit the Air Quality Portal online. DEQ’s website has a list of resources for keeping safe around wildfire smoke.
If you need this information in Spanish or another language, please call please call 919-609-2189 or send an email to Guadalupe.Jimenez@deq.nc.gov. Information about the Air Quality Index in Spanish is available from the EPA.