Smoke prompts health warnings

Published 4:01 am Thursday, June 12, 2008

By Staff
Wind shift hits Beaufort County with smoke
Staff Writer
With prevailing winds blowing from the Northeast to areas downwind of the Evans Road Fire, Beaufort County and areas west became engulfed in smoke Wednesday afternoon. The smoke contains harmful levels of air pollutants, which can pose a health hazard at high levels, according to official reports.
Visibility was so low because of smoke that the town of Belhaven could not be seen from the bridge over Pantego Creek at one point during the early afternoon.
Beaufort County Health Director Roxanne Holloman spent Wednesday afternoon handing out pamphlets listing safety tips regarding wildfire smoke.
It is extremely important to be able to recognize “signs of unhealthy smoke levels,” according to the pamphlet.
These indicators include, “greatly reduced visibility or haze, coughing, strong odors, burning or watering eyes,” the pamphlet said.
Holloman believes the symptoms are easy to identify.
Those most susceptible to smoke are people with health conditions, such as asthma, other chronic lung conditions, angina or heart disease, according to the pamphlet.
Several people were brought to the Beaufort County Hospital emergency room with smoke-related ailments, according to hospital spokeswoman Pam Shadle.
Pungo District Hospital in Belhaven was forced to review it’s disaster plan on Wednesday morning with smoke moving through the town.
The hospital contemplated evacuating all eight vental-air patients housed at the complex, but only transferred two, according to Brown.
The hospital received two people with smoke-related ailments on Tuesday night, but the patients were released shortly thereafter.
All scheduled procedures at the hospital through today have been canceled, according to Brown, but the emergency room is still open.
The shifting winds have also prompted Beaufort County Emergency Management Coordinator John Pack to lobby for a county-wide, limited state of emergency. Pack will meet with the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners at 10:30 a.m. in the County Administrative Office Building to discuss the state-of-emergency proclamation.
He believes that the proclamation will help prepare county residents in case of an evacuation.
The proclamation states that “it may be necessary to evacuate citizens with either voluntary orders of evacuation or mandatory orders of evacuation in areas of Beaufort County that are now affected or may soon be affected by the smoke and/or fire associated with the Evans Road fire. … Evacuation will be controlled through close coordination between Beaufort County Emergency Management and the Beaufort County Sheriff.”
Pack warned that the county does not currently “have the assets to fight an uncontrolled fire.”
He believes that widespread disaster efforts are essential to the safety of everyone in the county.