June 15, 2008

Wildfires’ Smoke to Remain Problematic

From staff and wire reports

Potent, wafting smoke from a pair of wildfires blanketed Hampton Roads in a haze Saturday, as air quality officials in two states forecasted the polluted air would continue at least through today.

Tom Mather of the North Carolina Division of Air Quality said pollutant levels are predicted to remain at Code Purple in northeastern North Carolina, the most severe air pollution warning the state has ever issued. It advises elderly people, children and those with some health problems to avoid all outdoor physical activity.

Poor conditions are likely north of the Pamlico River and east of the Chowan River, including Elizabeth City, Manteo and Nags Head.

"People need to know if they're downwind from heavy smoke, there will be very unhealthy air quality," Mather said. "We don't forecast for Virginia, but it wouldn't stop, obviously, at the state line," he said.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality downgraded its forecast for today to a Code Yellow, which means moderate air quality. The scale rises in severity through yellow, orange, red and purple.

A smoke advisory covered the region much of Saturday. James Foster, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service office in Wakefield, said wind patterns should shift today and push smoke south of Hampton Roads.

The foggy mist is because of wildfires in North Carolina and at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

The first fire, in and around North Carolina's Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, has burned more than 41,000 acres, or more than 64 square miles, according to figures released Saturday.

Staff writer Richard Quinn contributed to this report, which includes information from The Associated Press.

advisory The elderly, children and those with some health problems should avoid outdoor physical activity.

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