WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — Smoke pollution has put dozens of central North Carolina counties, including the Piedmont Triad, under a “Code Red” warning for air quality, according to the Forsyth County Office of Environmental Assistance and Protection.

The Forsyth County EAP says this is the first time that the Triad has been under a Code Red for particulate matter in 20 years, the last time being in 2003.

Wildfires in eastern Canada have sent smoke washing across the country. The smoke reached the Triad on Tuesday, causing a spike in particle pollution in the air and prompting the Forsyth County EAP to issue a “Code Orange,” meaning that the air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as older adults, children, active people and those with heart or lung disease.

That changed beginning at midnight Wednesday morning, when that warning rose to a “Code Red Air Quality Action Day” for the Triad, as well as the Triangle, Charlotte metro, northern Mountain regions and northern Coastal Plain, according to the North Carolina EAP. Everyone—not just sensitive groups—should limit any outdoor exertion Wednesday. The Code Red is expected to end at midnight Thursday morning.

The rest of the state will be under a Code Orange, primarily affecting sensitive groups.

“The meteorological conditions are just bringing this smoke south,” said Shawn Taylor, a spokesperson with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

According to Taylor, the smoke has matter inside of it.

“Tiny particles smaller than the width of a human hair that can get lodged deep into the lungs or get into the bloodstream and cause trouble breathing,” he said.

For those with heart and lung disease, that can be dangerous.  

“It may trigger an asthma attack … it could potentially trigger heart attacks and stroke. It can be very serious,” said Sarah Coffey, a Triad Air Awareness Coordinator based in Forsyth County.  

She’s been closely monitoring the smoke and advises normally healthy people to also be aware of the risks of “Code Red” level air. 

“They could definitely experience wheezing, coughing, itchy eyes, itchy throat,” she said.

A ban on burning leaves, brush and other vegetation is in effect until the end of the alert. Burning trash and other non-vegetative material is never allowed.

The Forsyth County EAP says people in the Triad can help prevent the levels from getting any higher by limiting or avoiding driving, engine idling and using gas-powered lawn equipment.

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The North Carolina EAP expects the main plume to continue moving southeast across the state with Forsyth County predicting conditions to remain at a Code Orange or higher through the end of the week.

The smoke stems from more than 400 wildfires burning across Canada, according to the New York Times. The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre said Tuesday that more than 200 of those fires were burning out of control. More than 150 fires were burning in the area of Quebec in eastern Canada alone. Quebecois officials encouraged residents to shut their windows and doors, and about 26,000 people across Canada had to be evacuated.

For the latest air quality information, visit the Air Quality Portal online. DEQ’s website has a list of resources for keeping safe around wildfire smoke.