Air quality alert after Hot Springs fire in WNC

RALEIGH – Air quality officials have issued an advisory for air pollution in western North Carolina on Thursday and Friday as smoke from a wildfire near Hot Springs drifts downwind.

Residents north of Asheville could experience unhealthy air quality, depending on wind directions.

A 1,500-acre wildfire in Madison County is causing smoke that could contain high levels of particle pollution.

he fire is located east of Hot Springs. Another fire is still burning in Hyde County, but smoke from it does not appear to be causing poor air quality in populated areas. For more information, visit http://www.ncair.org or https://www.facebook.com/NCAQFC/

The state environmental agency does not have an air quality monitor close to the fires, but previous measurements have found very unhealthy air pollution levels in smoke directly downwind of 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 western North Carolina estimates that fine particle levels could exceed federal standards. An air quality monitor in Asheville was measuring moderate levels of particles on Wednesday afternoon. 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.

Forecasters have predicted Code Orange conditions, or unhealthy for sensitive groups, in much of Madison County. In addition, intermittent Code Orange conditions could be experienced in all or portions of Buncombe, Madison, Mitchell and Yancey counties.

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.

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.

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