East Tennessee fires cause thick haze, unhealthy air quality

WATE 6 On Your Side staff - KNOXVILLE (WATE) - People around East Tennessee are reporting extremely smoky and hazy conditions that have led to an Air Quality Alert being issued. State forestry officials say there is not much wind and smoke from various brush fires burning across the area is settling in the valley.

The WATE 6 Storm Team says air quality is in the "very unhealthy" category due to the smoke, meaning everyone could have breathing issues and should stay indoors. An Air Quality Alert has been issued through Tuesday. He says a cold front is sweeping through tonight which should improve air quality Wednesday.

"I have never seen anything, as a lung doctor, I've never seen anything quite like this," said Dr. James Shamiyeh, pulmonary and critical care physician at UT Medical Center.

Those at risk of problems are people with asthma or COPD.

"A tightness or closure in your chest, shortness of breath, cough, maybe even wheezing, or that sense you can feel yourself breathe that air in and out," said Dr. Shamiyeh.

This may not be the best time to spend hours outside. Doctors say if you feel any of those symptoms, go indoors.

"It's the same as high pollen counts, for example. That affects some people; it doesn't affect other people. But I think if you're smelling it and feeling something that you're breathing, then it has the potential to affect you even if you're healthy," he said.

Until the air gets healthy again, it's best to limit exposure outside.

As of Sunday, a total of 96 fires were burning in Tennessee. In East Tennessee, three were reported in Anderson County, one in Blount County, 17 in Campbell County, three in Claiborne County, one in Cocke County, seven in Cumberland County, two in Fentress County, two in Grainger County, one in Greene County, one in Hancock County, three in Knox County, one in McMinn County, three in Monroe County, three in Morgan County, two in Scott County and two in Sevier County.

The Hamblen County sheriff says a 1,400 acre fire in Campbell County is causing a lot of the smoke in that part of the area.

A large number of the fires are suspected arson, East Tennessee Assistant District Forester Nathan Waters said, including a large one burning in Anderson County near Rosedale School.

Viewers reported hazy conditions all around the area, including Knox, Jefferson and Sevier counties. Year to date, 1,096 fires have burned in Tennessee for a total of 27,821 acres. Burn bans are in effect in a number of counties.

Related: More burn bans issued in East Tennessee counties

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Division of Forestry reports 38 active fires through the state. Five are in Harlan County.

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