Wildfire smoke could travel to Piedmont Triad by week’s end

FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. -- Several counties in western North Carolina are experience Code Red air quality conditions due to smoke traveling from wildfires which continue to rage in the state. To date, they’ve burned nearly 50,000 acres.

Depending on when you’re traveling, if you drive about an hour or so in the direction of the fires from Forsyth County, you may already be driving through the smoke.

“It covers everything," said Jonathan Whittington, of Hickory. “It’s like a blanket.”

Some residents in counties such as Surry, Wilkes and Yadkin have reported smelling the smoke.

Officials with Forsyth County Environmental Assistance and Protection say some smoke has made it to Forsyth County, but only for short periods of time. Early Wednesday, some areas were experiencing Code Yellow levels, which are not abnormal for this time of year, and others were making their way toward Code Orange.

“Our luck may be running out because the winds are going to shift around to the southwest,” said Jason Bodenhamer, program manager for Forsyth County Environmental Assistance and Protection.

Bodenhamer projects that those winds could send the smoke to the Triad late Thursday into midday Friday.

“This type of event, if we are in the crosshairs of that smoke plum for six hours, it could be the six highest hours of [Air Quality Index] that we’ve seen for the last 10 years,” he said. “So it’s a big deal.”

Bodemhamer added that the smoke has the potential to drift beyond the Triad, into the Triangle and even to the ocean.

“On that day, or for those hours, it could be nasty no matter which direction you look,” he said.

Bodenhamer suggests closing vents in your vehicle if you’re driving through the smoke and keeping all windows closed in your home, as well as anything else you can do to keep the smoke out.

“The bad thing about smoke is it’s so intrusive,” he said.

Although unlikely, Bodenhamer said there is the potential that the Triad could see Code Red levels. However, it’s most likely that we would experience Code Orange levels. In which case, it would be best for the young and elderly to avoid exposure, as well as those with preexisting breathing and heart conditions.

“Anybody that’s got to be out in it. Like if you’re working construction on Friday afternoon and you’re forced to be outside working in it, that could be a hazard,” he said. “Even to the general public, even to someone who doesn’t have a pre-existing condition.”

By Bodenhamer’s projections, a front could move in over the weekend and push the smoke away from our area. Although, with experts saying the fires could burn through the winter, there is a potential for smoke to travel to our area in the coming months.