Schools move activities indoors, construction work continues despite smoky air across Triangle

Air quality is slowly improving in the Triangle after the first Code Red alert day in more than a decade.
Posted 2023-06-06T08:44:54+00:00 - Updated 2023-06-07T23:19:06+00:00

It looked spooky outside Wednesday afternoon, with overcast skies and a thick haze in the air. A Code Red air quality alert was in effect Wednesday in the Triangle through about 3 p.m. due to smoke from the wildfires in Canada.

Poor air quality on Wednesday prompted Wake County Public Schools to limit outdoor activities, and Johnston County Schools moved all outdoor activities indoors.

On Wednesday, Wake, Durham, Orange, Lee, Chatham, Moore, Franklin and Nash counties were under the Code Red alert. After 3 p.m., as the air began to clear, those counties joined Johnston, Harnett, Cumberland, Wilson, Wayne and Sampson counties under a Code Orange alert.

Air quality alert June 7 and 8, 2023

Another Code Orange day – air quality that poses a threat to sensitive groups – is expected on Thursday for the state. Those with asthma, COPD, the very young or old or others with breathing problems are advised to limit time outdoors. Healthy adults can carry on with their usual activities.

"We still think tomorrow and Friday will be nice days, just a little hazy at times," said WRAL meteorologist Kat Campbell. "There's really nothing out there that would lead us to believe that the smoke would worsen in the coming days here locally."

Haze doesn't slow downtown Raleigh construction

In downtown Raleigh on Wednesday, construction continued at downtown Raleigh’s Freedom Park, where workers stayed on schedule.

"A lot of these projects have deadlines," said Darryl Hooks, owner of Stitan Concrete.

Raleigh skyline under Code Orange air quality alert

Hooks said a tight timeline means the work must be done, just with more caution. On Wednesday, he had oxygen tanks on hand for workers.

"We have oxygen tanks. If the guys feel woozy, they can go to the car for 10 to 15 minutes. They can just puff up some oxygen," he said.

The state Division of Air Quality said everyone should watch out for symptoms like shortness of breath, congestion and eye irritation.

Code Red is the fourth highest of the five categories and is considered unhealthy. According to the N.C. Division of Air Quality, statewide, June 29, 2012, was the last time Code Red conditions were as widespread as they were on Wednesday.

DAQ spokesperson Shawn Taylor said, "Even if you think that you're a great athlete, or you're very healthy and young, you still want to take care and pay attention to your body and limit your time outdoors."

The Raleigh skyline will appear overcast or hazy at times this week, and more than 73 million Americans are under an air quality alert.

Air quality index

Wildfires in Canada are causing a spike in air pollution that's now affecting the Carolinas and prompting these air quality alerts.

'Look out for symptoms such as chest tightness, shortness of breath'

Dr. Allison J. Burbank with UNC Health said her main concern is for people who have breathing problems inhaling the unsafe air.

"The people who have conditions like asthma or COPD, we might expect to feel more symptoms of their underlying disease and might need more rescue medications to treat symptoms," Dr. Burbank said.

Eric Osborne, an electrician, will be one of those who will have to work during the Code Red, as he has to help wire a 22-story building. He said he and his coworkers will be taking more breaks during the day Wednesday.

"[You] got to keep your eye on the guys you got working," Osborne said. "Tomorrow, [we'll] mainly take more breaks per hour."

Burbank did give tips on what signs to watch for if you do have to spend time outdoors.

Doctors are also recommending parents limit outdoor play for their children.

Sarah Thomas said she will be moving all her kids' activities to indoors on Wednesday.

"We decided that maybe we take the kids to the Marbles Kid's Museum and keep them indoors," Thomas explained. "Let them get their energy out."

Spikes in air pollution coming from the north

The spike in air pollution comes from the wildfires raging in the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Nova Scotia -- more than 1,000 miles away. The jet stream is steering the smoke all the way through the east coast into North Carolina.

Hazy skies have blanketed a wide portion of the country.

A view from Sky 5 showed the downtown Raleigh skyline covered in a haze Tuesday afternoon.

You can help prevent air pollution by driving less, conserving electricity and avoiding idling in cars.

The wildfire that forced thousands of residents from their homes in Canada's Atlantic Coast province of Nova Scotia is now contained, but officials said Sunday a second wildfire remains out of control. The blaze broke out a week ago, forcing 16,000 people from their suburban homes and destroying 200 structures, including 151 homes.