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Smoky mountain haze recedes

Smoke from wildfires in Western North Carolina have been somewhat of a threat to some students, but storms Tuesday diminished concerns over the conditions in the air.

Tom Mather, a spokesperson for the NC Division of Air Quality, said rain in the Western part of the state would hopefully help clear the air Tuesday.

“If we get heavy enough rain, that will reduce the fires as well,” he said.

The air quality forecast for today went out yesterday at 3 p.m., with most of the state being labeled good or moderate.

This hasn’t been the case for most of the month, however.

“We’ve issued daily forecasts, and we’ve had very unhealthy air among much of the Western part of the state for the past month,” Mather said.

Angela Knight, superintendent of Graham County Schools, said that earlier in November, air quality was bad enough that the county told schools to leave the students inside.

“For about two weeks, we kept the children inside the building and tried to do some air filtration in the buildings,” she said. “We didn’t allow any outdoor activities or practices after school.”

While conditions have improved, she said the school district continues to work with children who have asthma or other breathing issues, excusing days if necessary.

Stacia Harris, interim director of communications for Buncombe County Schools, said the county left it up to principals to decide if students needed to stay sheltered from the air.

She said principals were told to check with local firefighters, EMS, and the air quality report, and then make a decision.

“If it’s too smoky or the air quality is too bad, it’s your choice you can keep kids in for recess for gym,” she said.

Harris said about two weeks ago, when the air quality was especially bad, many principals chose to keep their students inside.

Having said that, she said the district’s superintendent was in touch with the county’s EMS director and he never said the situation was so bad that the county needed to keep kids inside across the board.

Mather said the concern about air quality is more applicable to those spending time outside.

“That’s one of the things we tell people, to limit their time outdoors,” he said.

That’s particularly true of groups that are sensitive to changes in air quality, including children.

“If you’re inside the building, the heating and air conditioning systems will filter out much of that material,” he said.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.