Smoke from nearby wildfires

  • Published
  • By Holly L. Birchfield
  • 78thABW/PA
Smoke from fires raging in South Georgia has recently drifted into the Middle Georgia area, and the matter is choking some people up.

In recent weeks, southeast winds have carried clouds of smoke from the fires over the Central Georgia area, randomly causing visibility problems during certain parts of the day in some areas. Although winds and a recent rainfall have alleviated some of the problems, the relief may be temporary.

First Lt. Kenneth Chilcoat, wing weather officer in the 78th Operations Support Squadron's Weather Flight, said while eastward winds have decreased the frequency of the smoke somewhat in the past several days, the ongoing drought may mean the smoke may linger.

"This is the first time we've seen the smoke in probably about a week and a half," he said. "That's because the winds have been mainly from the east. With the winds being from the east, places such as Moody Air Force Base and places along the Florida panhandle have seen the smoke more than Central Georgia."

Lieutenant Chilcoat said winds may have carried the smoke north and south, leaving Middle Georgia in a "pocket," and carrying the brunt of the smoke elsewhere.

Although recent rainfall has helped the situation, a more serious storm is needed to put out the fires.

"Basically, we're not going to get out of this drought unless we have a tropical storm," he said. "It's forecast to have an active hurricane season this year, so we have a good chance of getting our rainfall back this summer and into the fall."

In the meantime, breathing easy isn't an easy thing to do on days when the smoke is heavier.

Pat Tooley, lead health specialist in the Public Health Flight of the 78th Medical Group's Medical Operations Squadron, said her area is currently putting together a report that tracks any health problems people here have had from the smoke.

"The biggest health risk is going to be respiratory infections, allergic reactions and things like sinusitis," she said.

Although some may have problems with the smoke, Mrs. Tooley said Robins hasn't had a spike in health-related problems since the situation arose May 12.

Jennifer Jones, public information officer for the North Central Health District in Macon, which serves 13 Georgia counties, said the risk for health hazards are a concern for both people predisposed to health problems and the healthy alike.

"What we've been telling people is the wind is bringing in smoke from the wildfires in southern Georgia," she said. "The smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles that are burning from the trees and other plant materials that can hurt your eyes and irritate your respiratory system. If you have any chronic heart or lung conditions, it can worsen the symptoms from that."

Mrs. Jones said while people with pre-existing health problems are at risk, people without health problems are just as much at risk.

"Anyone can experience the effects from the smoke, but the people with those chronic heart and lung conditions, children, the elderly and pregnant women, they're at a greater risk of getting the side effects the smoke can bring," she said. "So, if you fall into one of those categories, you definitely want to make sure you're staying inside as much as possible, with the windows and doors shut."

To keep the smoky air at bay when cooling your home or vehicle, Mrs. Jones recommends people use methods that recirculate air to avoid bringing smoky air into the area.

Capt. Patricia Garcia, officer in charge of the Public Health Flight in the 78th MDG's Medical Operations Squadron, said people should turn to their primary healthcare providers for more individualized advice about heading off health problems from the recent smoky situation.