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Arsons suspected in Appalachian wildfires

Friday, November 11, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) — Authorities in two states are now investigating about two-dozen wildfires scarring southern forests as suspected arsons.

Jason Upchurch, the assistant fire chief in Rabun County, Ga., said law officers there are searching for a dark-colored SUV with a white male driver after multiple fires started Wednesday, many of them beginning as small roadside fires. Those small fires eventually merged, and firefighters were still working to suppress the flames today.

The area is less than 50 miles from the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina, where the U.S. Forest Service said more than 20 wildfires burning more than 17,000 acres are all "being investigated for suspected arson."

It's unknown whether any of the suspicious blazes are connected, and no arrests have been announced.

Environmental officials say smoke blowing down from wildfires in the North Carolina mountains have made Charlotte's air unhealthy for people with breathing problems.

The Charlotte Observer reports the local air quality index is Code Orange, meaning concentrations of fine particles from smoke can aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Mike Abraczinskas, deputy director of the state Air Quality Division, said if residents can see heavy haze and smell smoke, then air quality is not good and they should limit outdoor activities.