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Fires Continue To Burn Across Southeastern U.S.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

After months of unusually dry conditions, parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina are burning. As winds pick up, smoke from these wildfires is becoming a problem across the southeast. It's prompting air-quality warnings in many states. Here's Nick de la Canal of member station WFAE in Charlotte.

NICK DE LA CANAL, BYLINE: Sherod McNelay woke up this morning, got dressed and readied to his 2-year-old son, Pharaoh, for a trip to the park.

SHEROD MCNELAY: Soon as I walked outside, I said, something's burning.

DE LA CANAL: The smell was woody, something like a campfire - not what you'd expect in the Charlotte suburbs.

MCNELAY: It felt like somebody's house on fire. I'm like, yeah, it's definitely abundant.

DE LA CANAL: Megan Green, who tracks air quality for the county, says it wasn't just a weird smell residents were experiencing today.

MEGAN GREEN: Like, in my office, we can see uptown Charlotte. And this morning, it was very - well, it looked kind of hazy or smoky out there.

DE LA CANAL: She says this layer of gray smoke had blown into the city and much of the surrounding area overnight. With the smoke came dense particle pollutants, which is unhealthy for anyone to breathe.

But it's particularly bad for senior citizens, children and people with breathing problems. Tom Mather with the North Carolina Division of Air Quality says 31 counties in the state have issued elevated warnings to people.

TOM MATHER: And what that means is you really should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors. You know, it's not a good day to go for a run, go for a long bike ride, you know, go play tennis for an hour or two.

DE LA CANAL: The same is true in areas of South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, where drought has been fueling more wildfires, which firefighters have struggled to contain. Environmental agencies in each of these states have issued code-red air quality warnings as the smoke spreads.

Late today North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory said the dry conditions in his state could allow some of the 20 fires to keep burning for several more months. For NPR News, I'm Nick de la Canal in Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

WFAE's Nick de la Canal can be heard on public radio airwaves across the Charlotte region, bringing listeners the latest in local and regional news updates. He's been a part of the WFAE newsroom since 2013, when he began as an intern. His reporting helped the station earn an Edward R. Murrow award for breaking news coverage following the Keith Scott shooting and protests in September 2016. More recently, he's been reporting on food, culture, transportation, immigration, and even the paranormal on the FAQ City podcast. He grew up in Charlotte, graduated from Myers Park High, and received his degree in journalism from Emerson College in Boston. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal

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