(WGHP) – A fire in the Croatan National Forest has consumed tens of thousands of acres, but the impacts of that fire have hit a wide swath of eastern North Carolina.

Lia Parker, the Great Lake Fire public information officer, said, “Limited growth continued through Thursday as continued attempts to contain were made. Increasingly dry conditions and winds contributed to the rapid growth of the fire overnight through Friday.” 

By Friday, the Great Lake Fire had reached a size of approximately 35,000 acres with only 10% containment. 

The continued growth of the fire and the smoke plume combined with south winds led to air quality concerns in 21 eastern North Carolina counties on Friday and Saturday.

Observed Air Quality Index on Friday, April 21

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality forecasted “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” to “Very Unhealthy” air quality levels on Saturday. 

They stated that the reason for the Code Orange, Code Red and Code Purple levels were due to smoke and ash from the active wildfire in the Croatan National Forest.  

Strong south-southeast winds were also present on Saturday which, according to a Craven County news release, was the main pressure when fighting the wildfire. 

By Saturday, the fire remained at 10% containment and covered 35,000 acres.

Why was the air quality at such unhealthy levels for so many counties? 

The NC DEQ Air Quality Division issued the alerts because of the active and uncontrolled fire in Craven County, which was producing a large plume of heavy smoke in both Craven and Jones counties. 

The majority of eastern and coastal North Carolina saw unhealthy air quality due to the direction of the wind. South-southeast winds were able to blow smoke particles across much of the area.

However, a cold front moved through the Tar Heel State on Saturday, bringing with it a change in wind direction, a northwest wind, which helped to blow the smoke particles out towards the Atlantic.

Saturday’s cold front was able to lift air quality into “good” to “moderate” levels for eastern and coastal North Carolina.  

The United States Forest Service released an update on the fire Monday morning. They stated, “The Great Lakes Fire on Croatan National Forest remains at 36,000 acres and is 30% contained.” 

The National Weather Service recorded around half an inch of rain from Saturday’s storms which helped with the containment of the fire. 

The United States Forest Service also noted that Saturday’s rainfall and Sunday’s mild weather conditions “helped firefighters conduct planned fire break construction.”  

Air Quality forecast through Wednesday

Moderate air quality levels are expected to continue for Onslow, Jones, Craven and Carteret counties along the southeast North Carolina coastline as firefighters continue battling the wildfire in Croatan National Forest. 

Air Quality forecast for Tuesday, April 25

Wind direction is expected to remain out of the north which will keep the air quality lowered in the surrounding counties of the fire’s location. 

Air Quality forecast for Wednesday, April 26

The remainder of North Carolina is forecast to see “good” air quality levels through Wednesday.