Smoke from western US wildfires prompts Code Orange air quality alert

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— Do you notice a haze to the sky or perhaps smell a little bit of smoke in the air outside? Believe it or not, smoke from wildfires over the western part of the United States and even Canada is traveling all the way across the country and has made it to North Carolina.

The smoke is causing officials to issue a Code Orange alert for nearly all of North Carolina on Thursday. The alert means the environment outside could be unhealthy for sensitive groups and people with existing conditions.

Young children, the elderly and those with heart and lung disease and people exercising are encouraged to limit time outdoors.

“It’s probably going to be for a couple of days that we’ll see this pattern,” said WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner.

The state monitors the air quality and releases the next day’s forecast each day at 3 p.m.

There are currently 80 large wildfires spanning 13 states out west. The largest fire is the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, burning more than 350,000 acres so far and only 30% contained.

The fire season has grown longer and more extreme in recent years. As the globe continues to warm and our dry spells become more extreme out west, this trend is likely to continue. Sixty-four percent of the western United States is currently experiencing an extreme drought.

Twenty-eight percent of the western U.S. is in an exceptional drought.

Increased fire risk

Normally, western wildfires are a news story to us and don’t have any major impacts on North Carolina, but our current jetstream pattern is sending some of the smoke from those fires to our part of the country.

“The air quality right now is smoky,” said state meteorologist Elliot Tardif. “You can smell it and see the haze. This type of thing doesn’t happen here often.”

Tardiff said some people could experience wheezing, coughing or sneezing.

If you are sensitive to particle pollution, you might want to reduce the amount of time you spend outdoors, especially in our northern counties.

North Carolina Service Forester Brandon Outen spent 14 days in Colorado loading planes with materials to help douse the flames. He’s since returned to north Carolina, and said the experience he gained in the crisis – he’ll use to help prepare North Carolina. He also shared advice for those concerned about the air quality in the Triangle over the next couple days.

“Just do your part. Carpool if you are concerned about introducing more of these pollutants,” he said.