Air Quality Alert escalates to Code Red amid burning mountain wi - | WBTV Charlotte

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Air Quality Alert escalates to Code Red amid burning mountain wildfires

(Mark Davenport | WBTV) (Mark Davenport | WBTV)

The smoky scent in the air from the mountain wildfires is getting worse and with it - the air quality.

The Air Quality Alert, a Code Orange on Tuesday, was elevated to a Code Red Wednesday. The alert was issued across the entire Piedmont counties of both North and South Carolina, indicating generally unhealthy air for the entire population.

Areas under the Code Red alert include the counties of Mecklenburg, Iredell, Rowan, Lincoln, Gaston, Cabarrus and Union.

The Code Red Air Quality Alert means everyone in these areas should avoid or reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors, and sensitive groups should avoid any activity outside. 

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools says they are advising that students be kept inside as much as possible Wednesday.

Sensitive groups include the elderly, children, people who work or exercise outdoors, and those with heart conditions and respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema.

Smoke from numerous wildfires in the mountains continues to blanket the region.

About 15 wildfires covering more than 45,000 acres of land are burning in Western North Carolina, and smoke from those fires can contain high levels of air pollution.  

RELATED: More evacuations Wednesday as wildfires continue to burn in NC. SC

The state Division of Air Quality and the U.S. Forest Service have set up a number of special mobile air monitors throughout the region, along with permanent air monitors in Hickory, Charlotte and other locations. These monitors have measured unhealthy to very unhealthy levels of air pollution in smoke downwind of wildfires. 

“Local air quality conditions can vary widely due to winds, the spread of fires and other weather factors,” said Mike Abraczinskas, deputy director of the division. “Residents should limit their time outside if they observe low visibility and odors due to smoke, which indicates that the air is probably unhealthy to breathe.”

The national air quality standard for fine particles is 35 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over 24 hours. A number of air quality monitors in the mountains and the foothills regions have exceeded the standard, in some locations for much of the past week.

High particle levels can impair breathing and aggravate symptoms in people with respiratory problems, and irritate the lungs in healthy individuals. People with chronic lung ailments and children should reduce physical exertion and outdoor activity.

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