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Huge Swamp Fire to Degrade Air Quality Friday In Piedmont, Eastern NC

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Smoke from the Great Dismal Swamp fire should shift toward the south and southwest on Friday, degrading air quality across the northern Coastal Plain and northeastern Piedmont of North Carolina, air quality officials say.

Residents from Warrenton to Roanoke Rapids and other communities near Virginia-North Carolina state line could experience unhealthy air quality, and people are advised to avoid or reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors if they can see and smell smoke.

Satellite Image: NASA

The fire now covers nearly 5,000 acres of forest straddling the state line, and smoke is drifting downwind. For more information about the fire, check out the link on the national interagency website,http://www.inciweb.org/incident/2458/.

Some of the highest particle pollution levels the N.C. Division of Air Quality, or DAQ, has ever measured were in smoke plumes from wildfires.

Concentrations have reached Code Purple, or very unhealthy, at times in counties close to the fires. The highest particle concentrations have tended to occur during the evening and early morning hours. Particles can be harmful to breathe and contribute to haze and other air quality problems.

The air pollution forecast for Friday shows that fine particle levels in the northern Coastal Plain and northeast Piedmont 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 heart and respiratory problems, and irritate the lungs in healthy individuals. People with chronic lung and heart ailments as well as children and older adults should reduce physical exertion and outdoor activity.

Forecasters have predicted Code Red, or unhealthy air quality, in Camden, Gates, Hertford and Northampton counties. Code Orange, or air that is unhealthy for sensitive groups, is possible in those areas as well as Bertie, Chowan, Halifax Pasquotank, Perquimans and Warren counties. Intermittent smoky conditions could occur in much of northern and central Coastal Plain and northeast Piedmont regions of North Carolina.

In Code Red areas, sensitive groups should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors. Sensitive groups include older adults, children, people who work or exercise outdoors, and those with heart conditions and respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. Everyone else should limit prolonged or heavy exertion in Code Red or Orange areas.

Fine particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs and be absorbed into the bloodstream, causing or aggravating heart and lung diseases. Persons most susceptible to particle pollution include those with heart and respiratory conditions, older adults 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.

Previous wildfires in Bladen, Cumberland, Dare, Hyde and Pender counties have affected air quality in much of Eastern North Carolina over the summer, but those fires are largely contained with little remaining smoke.

More information on air quality in North Carolina can be found at the DAQ website,www.ncair.org. More information on the health effects of smoke can be found at this website:http://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=smoke.page1#4 .

Source: NC Department of Environment, Health & Natural Resources