More than 35,000 acres of North Carolina forests are burning in the state’s western counties, including Rutherford, Graham, Swain, Clay and Macon. But the impact is being felt, and inhaled, by residents as far away as Charlotte – and beyond.
Almost half of the state has experienced a decline in air quality as a result of the fires. Dr. Susan Mims, vice president for children’s services and genetics at Mission Hospital in Asheville, said if you smell or see smoke or haze where you live, it’s best to avoid it.
“When you see that and smell it, the very best thing to do is to stay inside and try to be around recirculating air so that you’re not drawing in air from the outside, which just brings in the particulate matter and the chemicals that can cause health problems,” Mims said.
Experts recommend when you’re in a car, to run your air on circulate, even if the heat or air conditioning is turned off. The same can be done at home. Emergency agencies urge the public to call 911 only if they see thick, black smoke or flames in a particular area.
The wildfires aren’t expected to be out or under control until the beginning of December.
While there isn’t yet any measurable data regarding increased health problems related to the fires, Mims warned that damage to people’s health could worsen over time.
“We are hearing a few anecdotal reports of some doctors saying, ‘Yeah, I think I might be seeing this,'” she said. “And the longer the duration of exposure, the more the risk is that people will develop symptoms.”
Warning signs that you may be over-exposed to poor air quality include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and coughing. Left untreated, it could have a more serious impact on your lungs.
Experts recommend changing out filters in return air vents for HEPA filters to improve air quality at home – particularly for those who are elderly, have young children in the house or have asthma. Portable air filters for the home can also be purchased for less than $200.