The untamed wildfires in the North Carolina mountains have become Charlotte’s problem, too.
As smoke from the high country continues to pour east, the Charlotte region has been placed under a Code Red air quality warning for high level particulate matter. That’s the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s way of saying, it’s smoky out there.
So smoky that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools sent out this advisory just after 11 a.m. “In response to this (air quality) alert, we are advising that students be kept inside the building as much as possible today,” CMS spokesman Brian Hacker said. The district also announced a series of changes to scheduled activities, including practice sessions for sports teams, to restrict how much time its students spend outside breathing the bad air.
Among the changes put in place:
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▪ CMS canceled the Polar Bear Invite scheduled at Olympic High School for Wednesday afternoon.
▪ It limited outdoor practices and workouts for all teams to 45 minutes, and school trainers had to be present.
▪ The schools have required that all coaches and athletes be closely monitored, especially those with a known respiratory condition.
The region awoke Wednesday morning to foggy haze that burned eyes and throats and set noses running. Code Red means the air is unhealthy for all groups, but particularly older adults, active people and those with heart and lung problems.
“Everyone may experience health effects,” the state agency warns. “Limit prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.”
The smoke isn’t going anywhere soon because the fires continue to burn. So far, 44,000 acres have been consumed. Given the drought conditions in 30 counties, Gov. Pat McCrory said this week that the state could be dealing with wildfire problems into the spring. The state has burned through more than $10 million fighting the fires, with little to show for the money and efforts of more than 1,600 firefighters spread across the Blue Ridge.
The blazes have scarred the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee; each has been hit by extreme drought. In all, more than 80,000 acres have been torched. As of Wednesday, new outbreaks had reached the suburban counties of Atlanta while the flames continue to burn in the South Mountains State Park, 65 miles from uptown.
The National Weather Service predicts dry conditions and low humidity through next Tuesday – in other words, prime burning conditions.
“People just expect this to be dealt with immediately, but God doesn’t do that,” McCrory said. “This is going to be a very difficult challenge.”