This story has been updated.
Smoke from a wildfire in the north Georgia mountains is continuing to make its way southward toward Atlanta, worsening air conditions for residents.
Tomorrow the air quality alert will be updated to Orange, meaning an elevated risk for people who have conditions like asthma.
The extreme drought conditions are keeping the fire lit, and the National Weather Service says there isn’t any rain the forecast in the next 10 days.
“We don’t really have any appreciable rain in the forecast for at least the next 10 days,” NWS meteorologist Keith Stellman said. “It doesn’t look like there’s enough to alleviate the problem. Until we get the fire put out, we’re going to be dealing with smoke in some aspect.”
He said firefighters are only able to get a handle on the spread of the blaze, but putting it out will require rain. Firefighters are trying to corral the blaze using natural barriers like rivers. Airplane drops have minimal effect, Stellman said.
“There are crews working them now,” he said. “You have to keep in mind, these fires are more than 10,000 acres in size and in areas very remote, on cliffs, in the mountains. … Some of these guys are having to hike 13 miles to prevent and fight them.”
Stellman said the state Environmental Protection Division is responsible for issuing air quality alerts. He said air quality has been “code yellow off and on” depending on where the wind carries the smoke. The EPD website does not appear contain any information about the current air quality in relation to the fires.
Nyasha Dunkley, deputy state climatologist for Georgia, said the code orange air quality alert will go into effect on Nov. 15. She said the alerts are based on average smoke in the area over a 24 hour period. The current condition is code yellow.
According to a PDF found on the EPD website, code yellow alert means, “Air quality is acceptable; however for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.”
A code orange alert means, “Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected.”
The next step up, code read, means, “Everyone may begin to experience health effects. Members of more sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.”
Things only get worse from there, according to this chart:
Dunkley said the forecast will be reevaluated each day.
Stellman said the current weather conditions will affect the people that are most vulnerable, like children, the elderly and people with breathing problems.
He said the threat of the fires spreading to the metro area is “not likely.”
“It doesn’t mean we won’t have potential fires in the metro area,” he added. “Most of it contained in areas a lot harder to access, valleys and ridges. That’s where a lot of the big ones are occurring. It doesn’t mean the fire danger is any less down here. It’s more difficult for the fires to spread because we can get to them and put them out.”