Wildfires cause hacking, wheezing across the South

Associated Press


Asthma sufferers and others with breathing problems are turning up at hospitals and doctors’ waiting rooms, wheezing and hacking. Schoolchildren are being kept inside at recess. And people whose lungs are easily irritated are being told to close the windows and run the air conditioner if they have one.

Dozens of wildfires that have burned an estimated 190 square miles across the Southeast have thrown a shroud of smoke over the region in the past week or so, even in distant metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, leaving cities big and small smelling like a campfire jamboree, but without the fun.

The murk – sometimes yellowish-brown, sometimes gray or milky – has veiled mountaintops, obscured Atlanta skyscrapers and intermittently turned the sun into a pale golden smudge over the city. At times, the flames have also cast a haze over Nashville and Chattanooga, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C.

For asthma sufferers Lamont Hall and his 12-year-old twin daughters, just stepping outside was enough to make them sick as they breathed in the smoke that settled over Atlanta from a nearly 24,000-acre brush fire in the mountains some 90 miles northwest of the city. He and his girls went to the doctor, who ordered them to stay home from work and school.

“Our chest is very tight, our eyes are burning, and we’re wheezing,” Hall said. “The smell is so bad that I can taste it.”

Federal authorities said 50 large fires of 100 acres or more are burning across the Southeast. Some are deep in the woods, while others threaten homes and highways.

The flames have not caused any widespread property damage. But the smoke has contributed to auto accidents, including a series of wrecks in Kentucky that killed one person and injured 14 others.

Daily air-quality reports from the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies show pollutants have reached unhealthy levels – meaning people may feel ill even if they don’t have respiratory ailments – across much of Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee as well as portions of Alabama, North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia.

The elderly and people with asthma or other lung problems are being warned to limit their time outdoors.

“Our patients are definitely complaining,” said Dr. Stanley Fineman, an allergist in Atlanta.

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