CHARLOTTE, N.C., Nov. 16 (UPI) — Wildfires in western North Carolina have prompted state environmental officials to raise the air quality alert level in the Charlotte region to Code Red, which means air is considered unhealthy for everyone.
“Older adults, children, active people, and those with heart or lung disease may experience more serious health effects,” the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality warned Tuesday. “Everyone may experience health effects. Limit prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.”
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board has advised that “students be kept inside the building as much as possible today” due to the air quality alert, the Charlotte Observer reported.
The National Weather Service said it predicts dry conditions and low humidity for North Carolina until Tuesday.
“Numerous large wildfires continue to burn within the southern Appalachian mountain region. These fires are producing large smoke plumes and the smoke is expected to create unhealthy breathing conditions where the smoke is most concentrated,” the NWS said in a statement.
The North Carolina Forest Service said 15 wildfires in western North Carolina have burned more than 45,000 acres, and together, fires in the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee have burned more than 80,000 acres. The states affected by the wildfires are all under an extreme drought.
Senior air quality specialist Shelley Lanham warned about increased levels of particulate matter in the air.
“They’re really small and they can penetrate deep into your lungs and that’s where they become a respiratory irritant, and they also exacerbate heart health condition,” she told WSOC-TV.
North Carolina has spent more than $10 million fighting the fires. More than 1,600 firefighters are operating across the Blue Ridge mountains.