Smoke triggers Air Quality Alert

Smoke fills the air in Cumberland County Monday thanks to a wildlfire burning near the Bladen/Cumberland county line. (Mat Mendez)
July 7, 2011 3:14:36 AM PDT
Rainy weather in Bladen County has given firefighters better control of a wildfire and allowed evacuated residents to return home. But smoke from the blaze is pushing north all the way to the Triangle.

The National Weather Service has issued a Code Orange Air Quality Alert for Cumberland, Durham, Orange, Wake and several other counties. On Wednesday, a Code Red Air Quality Alert was issued for Cumberland, Harnett, and Sampson counties.

Experts say a Code Red Alert means active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease such as asthma, should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

A Code Orange means people with chronic breathing conditions should stay indoors.

Click here to learn more at the NC Division of Air Quality website

Jim Moser is the air quality permit coordinator for the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources. He has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD from years of smoking and is personally impacted during Code Red Air Quality Alerts, especially when the particles in the air are 2.5 microns.

"They lodge in your lungs," he said. "The larger particles won't lodge in your lungs, they will actually be scrubbed out or washed out by your normal body functions. But the 2.5 is very small parts particulate will actually lodge in your lungs."

The source of the smoke is the so-called Simmons Road Fire burning near the Cumberland-Bladen county line.

Forestry information officer Chris Meggs said rainfall overnight dampened the area and the nearly 6,000-acre fire was smoldering Wednesday rather than blazing.

Ten homes were evacuated Sunday after the flames crossed containment lines. Meggs says firefighters will work Wednesday to get more containment lines in place.

The fire started June 20 and is estimated to be 50 percent contained.

A cabin and two outbuildings were lost in the fire Monday, along with a four-wheeler and a tractor used to fight wildfires. Three homes in the Live Oaks community of Cumberland County were destroyed by the blaze last month.

There have been no injuries.

Firefighters say soil around the fire has a high organic content, meaning that the soil itself can catch fire and burst through traditional containment lines that are bulldozed around wildfires. The soil can also smolder for days or weeks until it gets a flooding rain to completely extinguish the fire.

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