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Western NC Under State's Highest Air Quality Warning

A heavy air tanker drops fire retardant over the Boteler Fire in western North Carolina
Courtesy of North Carolina Forest Service
A heavy air tanker drops fire retardant over the Boteler Fire in western North Carolina

The state Department of Environmental Quality has again issued warnings of dangerous air quality in western North Carolina as a result of more than a dozen wildfires in the region. Four counties in the west were under a "code purple" air quality alert on Tuesday, the highest warning the state can give.

The heavy smoke briefly grounded some planes at Charlotte Douglas International Airport Tuesday morning.

Dry weather continues to stoke the fires in an area that usually gets consistent rain during the fall, according to State Division of Air Quality Spokesman Tom Mather.

"It's unusual for the mountainous region to be going through such an extended drought, and what makes it worse this time is it's in the fall when all the leaves are dropping," Mather said. "There's a lot of litter, leaves and other material on the ground that's very flammable.

The state and U.S. Forest Service report 15 separate fires that have now burned nearly 46,000 acres in North Carolina.

"We have webcams in various locations around the state including a number of those up in the mountains, and in some areas it looks like a heavy fog," Mather said. "The visibility is that bad, and when it's that bad, that means the air quality is really bad."

Will Michaels is WUNC's General Assignment Reporter and fill-in host for "Morning Edition"
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