Wild­fires stir up healthy con­cern

Breath­ing prob­lems mul­ti­ply in South

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Jonathan Lan­drum Jr., Re­becca Reynolds Yonker and Russ Bynum

ATLANTA — 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 last week, even in dis­tant metropoli­tan ar­eas like 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. The flames have also cast a haze over Nashville and Chat­tanooga, Tenn., and Char­lotte, N.C

For asthma suf­fer­ers La­mont Hall and his 12-yearold twin daugh­ters, 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 Blount County, Tenn., fire­fight­ers bat­tle a wild­fire be­hind Wal­land El­e­men­tary School and Wal­land United Methodist Church Thurs­day. The school was evac­u­ated. 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 cur­tain of 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. He said he is see­ing more peo­ple in need of ex­tra in­halers and other treat­ments.

More than 200 peo­ple have been treated at two Chat­tanooga hos­pi­tals for short­ness of breath and other res­pi­ra­tory dif­fi­cul­ties, Ten­nessee emer­gency of­fi­cials re­ported.

Rod­ney Adams coughs ev­ery few min­utes while talk­ing from in­side his home in Cum­ber­land, Ky., a few miles from flames burn­ing on Pine Moun­tain in Har­lan County. The 62-year-old for­mer coal miner suf­fers from black lung and said it is hard for him to breathe even with an oxy­gen tank.

“I only use it when. I have to, but right now it’s a have-to,” Adams said. “It’s a good thing I got it.”

TOM SHERLIN/THE DAILY TIMES

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