Smoke an irritating concern

Smoke an irritating concern

15 June 2011

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USA — State air-quality officials continue to issue unhealthy air quality advisories for various portions of the eastern part of the state as smoke from the Pains Bay Fire on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Dare Bombing Range continues to burn.

The fire was ignited on May 4 in a densely wooded area south of Stumpy Point and was first seen and reported on May 5. Since that time, it has burned more than 45,000 acres – almost three times the amount of privately-owned land in Dare County.

Smoke from the fire has shifted with the ever-changing wind direction and has been reported as far north as Washington, DC, west to Raleigh and south to Myrtle Beach.

In the evening and early morning hours, smoke seems to be thicker and more prevalent on the mainland and Roanoke Island.

The air quality advisories recommend staying inside when the heavy smell of smoke is present. These times are when the highest particle concentrations in the smoke have been monitored. Particles can be harmful to breathe and contribute to haze and other air quality problems.

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, states a press release from the NC Division of Air Quality issued on Monday.

The Environmental Protection Agency advises that healthy individuals are usually not at a major risk from short-term exposures to smoke.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. It can cause scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, stinging eyes, runny nose and can exacerbate asthma. For those with heart or lung disease, heavy smoke can cause chest pain, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and fatigue.

Older adults with heart or lung diseases and children whose airways are still developing and because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults are most likely to be affected.

Smoke can enter buildings, but there are some things that can be done to lessen the amount of indoor pollution.

The CDC recommends keeping indoor air as clean as possible by keeping windows and doors closed and running an air conditioner. The fresh-air intake should be closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. In extremely hot weather, those without air conditioning should find other shelter.

When smoke levels are high, do not use anything in the home that burns, such as candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.

Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect lungs from smoke. An “N95” mask, properly worn, will offer some protection, according to CDC.

So how long will the smoke last? Until the fire is put out.

An update on the fire released Monday, June 13, states that the Stumpy Point community will be threatened if the fire escapes containment lines on the northeast quadrant. Officials continue to closely monitor this area and the potential threat.

Firefighters moved more equipment to the southwest side of the fire, because at the time of the report, the wind was coming from the north. Engine crews, irrigation systems and helicopter drops are being used to cool hot spots.

Firefighters are pumping up to 165 millions of gallons of water per day to suppress burning peat soil along the fire perimeter. Water is being pumped from Stumpy Point Bay, Point Peter Canal, Milltail Creek and will soon be pumped from Whipping Creek.

Most of the ground fire is higher in elevation than the water sources. In some cases, water is staged, and a second pumping station is needed to get water to the fire perimeter.

It is not possible to flood all ground fire areas, because the center of the burn is higher in elevation than surrounding ground, and there are no roads or canals in that area.

There are several areas of intense ground fire that are causing flare ups that could result in spot fires across containment lines. The area of burning peat soil covers over 8,000 acres.

Infrared technology is being used to determine the extent of ground fire and detect hot spots.

The organic soil (peat) will continue burning until the fire consumes all the peat down to mineral soil, the fire burns down to a level of high moisture content, or the soil moisture level rises to the fire as a result of the pumping operations or a sustained heavy rain.

The intensity of the ground fire is determined by the dryness of the fuel, the relative humidity, the temperature and the wind speed.

There currently are 228 fire personnel on scene. Cooperating agencies include: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; U.S. Forest Service; National Park Service; North Carolina Division of Forest Resources; Department of Defense; Stumpy Point, Manns Harbor, Roanoke Island Volunteer Fire Departments, Dare County Volunteer Fire Departments; and Dare County Emergency Management Services, NC Baptist Men and firefighters from several states.

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