University officials continue to monitor air quality, wildfire situation

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Update: Monday, Nov. 28

Air quality conditions continue to fluctuate on and around the campus of Western Carolina University from the lingering wildfires across the mountain region. Smoke from those fires has settled across Western North Carolina today (Monday, Nov. 28), leading to an air quality rating of “unhealthy for sensitive groups” from the Air Quality Forecast Center of the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources. Despite the smoky conditions, the university is not threatened by the fires, which are located many miles from campus.

Members of the campus community, especially those with asthma or other respiratory conditions, should take personal precautions to avoid negative impacts from the smoky conditions. Health Services (located in Bird Building) is available to students, faculty and staff who have questions or concerns about a health condition that may be affected by poor air quality.

The good news is that weather forecasters are calling for a high probability of heavy rain this week. If those rains materialize as predicted, they could help diminish – or possibly extinguish – the wildfires that have been burning for the past few weeks. The National Weather Service states that rain could move into the area as early as Monday night and continue through Wednesday, with up to 5 inches of precipitation possible.

University public safety officials continue to monitor conditions and will alert the campus community to any changes in the situation. If this week’s anticipated rainfall does douse the wildfires, this should be the final air quality update issued by the university, unless changing conditions warrant additional communication to campus. All updates will be posted on this web page.

Update: Tuesday, Nov. 22

Next update: Monday, Nov. 28

Yesterday, we told you that the improved air quality conditions at Western Carolina University could quickly change depending upon wind direction and other factors. Unfortunately, that is what we are experiencing today as smoke is beginning to move into the area from a fire many miles away. This has resulted in a downgrade in the air quality forecast for Jackson County from “good” to “unhealthy.” For those with asthma or other respiratory conditions, please make sure that you keep your inhaler and other medications up-to-date and readily available.

Local emergency management and fire department officials report that smoke is blowing toward campus and the surrounding area from the Rock Creek fire in northern Georgia. Reports indicate that smoke most likely will appear darker and thicker than previous smoke we have experienced from the rash of wildfires that have afflicted the mountains in recent weeks. Despite the change in appearance of the smoke, there currently are no fires that constitute a threat to campus, and there are no active fires in Jackson County.

Again, keep in mind that WNC is in a period of extreme drought and that the unusually dry weather combined with falling leaves and tree limbs lead to conditions that are favorable for wildfire. Please be careful. Remember that a burning ban remains in place and, if you are a smoker, please refrain from flicking that cigarette butt out of the car window.

Be safe as you leave campus for the Thanksgiving holiday. The campus community continues to be thankful for the service of firefighters and other emergency responders who remain on the job.

University public safety officials continue to monitor conditions and will alert the campus community to any changes in the situation. The university will issue another update on Monday, Nov. 28, unless changing conditions warrant earlier communication to campus. All updates will be posted on this web page. The safety of all members of the university community is of the utmost importance.

 

Update: Monday, Nov. 21

Next update: Monday, Nov. 28

Air quality conditions have improved greatly on and around the campus of Western Carolina University as firefighters continue to work to contain the many wildfires that have scorched the mountain region during the late autumn.

Jackson County emergency management officials report that all wildfires in the county have been extinguished or are contained. In addition, firefighters have made progress on most of the other wildfires across Western North Carolina, this despite windy conditions over the weekend that threatened to spread the fire. Ironically, those gusty winds also played a role in helping to dissipate the smoke that had settled over most of the region. As a result, as of this morning (Monday, Nov. 21), air quality for Jackson County has been upgraded to “good,” which is the highest rating assigned by the Air Quality Forecast Center of the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources.

However, please keep in mind that WNC remains in a prolonged period of drought and that the extremely dry weather combined with falling leaves and tree limbs are fuel that produce favorable conditions for wildfire. Changes in wind direction also could affect air quality in the Cullowhee area. We once again encourage everyone to remember that the ban on burning and open flames is still in effect and to be careful with cigarettes or anything else that may create a spark that could lead to a fire.

Finally, please be safe as you depart campus for the Thanksgiving holiday. We can all agree on one thing for which we should be thankful – the tireless service of the hundreds of firefighters and other emergency responders who are battling these blazes and doing their very best to keep us safe.

University public safety officials continue to monitor conditions and will alert the campus community to any changes in the situation. The university will issue another update on Monday, Nov. 28, unless changing conditions warrant earlier communication to campus. All updates will be posted on this web page. The safety of all members of the university community is of the utmost importance.

 

Update: Friday, Nov. 18

Next update: Monday, Nov. 21

Not much has changed since our update earlier this week about air quality conditions on and around the campus of Western Carolina University because of the persistent wildfires across the mountain region. The university remains unthreatened by fire, although air quality continues to be a factor because of smoke blowing in from fires to our west, as wind direction has an impact on air quality.

A new fire popped up Thursday, Nov. 17, in the Little Canada community of Jackson County, but most of the smoke from that blaze is blowing east toward Haywood County and is not expected to affect air quality on campus. Air quality continues to fluctuate from “moderate” to “unhealthy for sensitive groups” to “unhealthy,” depending upon which way the winds are blowing. A chart illustrating the air quality color codes is posted above.

With the weekend upon us, we also want to remind you to be extremely careful if venturing outdoors. A period of extended drought combined with the falling leaves of autumn has created conditions that are ripe for the spread of wildfire. A burning ban remains in place across Western North Carolina. When camping or hiking in the woods, avoid open flame. For those who smoke, refrain from tossing your lit cigarettes on the ground. A tiny spark or ember could ignite a major conflagration.

Members of the campus community, especially those with asthma or other respiratory conditions, should take personal precautions to avoid negative impacts from the smoky conditions. Health Services (located in Bird Building) is available to students, faculty and staff who have questions or concerns about a health condition that may be affected by poor air quality.

University public safety officials are continuing to monitor conditions and will alert the campus community to any changes in the situation. The university will issue another update on Monday, Nov. 21, unless changing conditions warrant earlier communication to campus. All updates will be posted on this web page. The safety of all members of the university community is of the utmost importance.

 

Update: Monday, Nov. 14

Next update: Friday, Nov. 18

Although smoky conditions continue to affect the air quality on and around the campus of Western Carolina University because of a rash of wildfires across the region, the university remains unthreatened by fire.

Emergency officials report there are no active fires near campus and that the smoke being experienced on campus is blowing in from fires to the west. The only significant fire in Jackson County, located two miles northwest of Sylva, was reported to be 94 percent contained as of Sunday, Nov. 13. Other major fires were located on national forest land in counties west of Jackson County.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources is continuing to monitor air quality conditions across the state, and currently has rated air quality conditions in Jackson County as “unhealthy.”  Members of the campus community, especially those with asthma or other respiratory conditions, are advised to take personal precautions to avoid negative impacts from the smoky conditions. Health Services (located in Bird Building) is available to students, faculty and staff who have questions or concerns about a health condition that may be affected by poor air quality.

University public safety officials are closely monitoring conditions and will alert the campus community to any changes in the situation. The university will issue another update on Friday, Nov. 18, unless changing conditions warrant earlier communication to campus. All updates will be posted on this webpage. The safety of all members of the university community is of the utmost importance.

FOR STUDENTS – Talk to your instructors if you have concerns about a health condition that may affect your ability to attend class during times of poor air quality. It is important for students and faculty to communicate to ensure that instruction continues. Check your Catamount email on a regular basis to look for updated information, and please share updates with your parents.

FOR PARENTS – Advise your student to contact Health Services if he/she has concerns about a health condition that may be affected by poor air quality.

 

Update: Sunday, Nov. 13

From WCU Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar

Good Afternoon,

Just a quick update on the wildfires in the western part of our state and the smoke conditions that we are experiencing. At this point in time, there are NO active fires in Jackson County, including none that are threatening Western Carolina University. The smoke we are seeing is being blown in from the Nantahala fires, and possibly a fire that they had in Cherokee. However, again, NONE of these are a threat to Western Carolina University.

Smoke:

We will continue to see smoke off and on until the fires are fully extinguished. The typical pattern that we are seeing is a general clearing during the day and the smoke slowly returning in the late afternoon and evening hours. Smoke conditions are purely related to wind direction and the fires burning in the Nantahala Forest and in Cherokee.

With the smoke conditions, we, of course, will see negative effects on our air quality. We again encourage everyone to take personal responsibility for their individual health. It is important for everyone to assess their personal situation and determine their best course of action. Those with respiratory issues or allergies to smoke should avoid the smoke when possible. If one develops respiratory issues or severe allergic reactions to smoke, they are urged to seek medical advice.

We will continue to keep everyone updated. We encourage everyone to refer to the information below about air quality and what to do if you run into issues resulting from the smoke.

Air Quality Issues:

Health Services is monitoring the air quality reports that are updated daily by the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources as local area wildfires continue to push smoke throughout the Western North Carolina region.

Air quality conditions in Jackson County are rated as “unhealthy” and state officials issued the following health message:

People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.
People with lung disease may not be able to breathe as deeply or as vigorously as usual, and they may experience symptoms such as coughing, phlegm, chest discomfort, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Wildfire smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn. The biggest health threat from smoke comes from fine particles.

These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis.

Fine particles also can aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases – and even are linked to premature deaths in people with these conditions.

Is smoke affecting you?

Health Services has begun to see and treat patients with symptoms related to the smoke and subsequent poor air quality. You may experience these symptoms:

Irritation or stinging eyes
Irritated airway or sinuses
Coughing
Scratchy throat
Shortness of breath
Headaches
Runny nose
Take precautions:

Evaluate outside conditions, monitor air quality, plan suitable outdoor activities; for example if it is smoky, it may not be the best day for a two-mile run.
Stay indoors as much as possible – take steps to keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep your windows and doors closed, avoid using window fans that might pull the smoke indoors.
Carry inhalers with you at all times if you have asthma or other lung diseases.
Follow the advice of your doctor or other health care provider about medicines and about your respiratory management plan. Consult with Health Services if you need assistance with your symptoms. Call 828-227-7640 for more information or visit the CDC at Protect Yourself from Wildfires.