06/22/11 — Smoke gone -- for now

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Smoke gone -- for now

By Staff Reports
Published in News on June 22, 2011 1:46 PM

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A smoky haze from the wildfires on the coast settles over U.S. 70 West in Goldsboro. People with respiratory problems are encouraged to stay inside during bad air conditions.

Smoke that blanketed Wayne County and much of the eastern and central portions of the state had largely dissipated by early today.

Officials with the National Weather Service said the smoke came mostly from a large wildfire burning in the Holly Shelter Game Land in Pender County.

Combined with another fire near the Bladen-Cumberland county line that started this week and the still smoldering remnants of a Dare County fire that has been burning for more than a month, the fires created a haze that reduced highway visibility and posed a threat to people and animals with breathing problems.

The Pender blaze started Saturday after a lightning strike started the fire, National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Dunstan said Tuesday afternoon. The fire had gotten out of control by Monday, he said, burning more than 3,000 acres.

Firefighters said the intense heat and dry conditions were hurting their ability to contain the fire. Much of the eastern half of the state is in a drought.

According to the U.S. Drought Management Agency, Wayne County is considered to be in a severe drought with conditions worse toward the east and south.

To date since January, the state climate office's monitoring station at Cherry Research Farm has recorded just under 12 inches of rain.

Conditions were expected to improve today because of southwesterly winds, Dunstan said. But because the fires are still burning, there is still a chance that some smoke will still hover over the area at times.

Highway Patrol officials said the smoke can create a driving environment comperable to fog, and suggested that people use their headlights and give themselves extra distance between vehicles.

Law enforcement agencies and DOT work together regarding road closures and detours..

The National Weather Service urged people who are sensitive to poor air quality to avoid remaining outdoors for prolonged periods of time, while drivers were advised to take caution on the roads because of the decreased visibility.

Owners of pets should also limit their animals' exposure to the smoke, if possible. Dr. George Silver, a veterinarian at Wayne Veterinary Hospital, said that small pets should remain indoors if possible and that horses, cattle and other animals likely are too large to suffer serious effects from the smoky conditions but should be provided with plenty of water and food to keep their strength up to defend against airborne particles.

State Forest Service officials said today that there is no burning ban right now, but that farmers and others are urged to use extreme caution when burning fields or starting other fires.

"The last thing we need is another forest fire," said Rob Lipford of the District 5 office in Rocky Mount. The district includes Wayne County.