The Georgia Department of Health recommends taking these steps to protect yourself and your family from health risks due to smoke:
Use common sense. If it looks and smells smoky outside limit outdoor activities; yard work, exercise, children playing.
Pay attention to local air quality reports and news coverage related to smoke.
Keep indoor air as clean as possible if you are advised to stay indoors. Keep windows and doors closed. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside.
Avoid activities that increase indoor pollution. Burning candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves can increase indoor pollution. Vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home, contributing to indoor pollution. Smoking also puts even more pollution into the air.
Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper "comfort" or "dust" masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from the small particles found in wildfire smoke.
Follow the advice of your doctor or other health care provider about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease.
The smell of smoke and hazy conditions persisted into Friday as forest fires in north Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina continue to burn.
According to Shawn Alexander, district ranger for the Georgia Forestry Commission, the thick air is largely due to fires in Fannin County.
According to the U.S. Forest Service Facebook, a fire currently burning in Fannin County has, as of yesterday, covered more than 10,000 acres and is only 13 percent contained. Other smaller fires have broken out in the area as well.
The National Weather Service has issued an advisory that due to northerly winds, smoke from the fires is blowing south into more populated areas, reducing visibility and causing breathing sensitivity.
According to the National Weather Service, no rain is expected in North Georgia for at least a week, which means the smoke could stick around for a while longer, unless wind patterns shift the smoke elsewhere.
Alexander said in the month of October the Forestry Commission responded to 362 fires in the Coosa District, which includes Dawson.
Normally, he said, the month's average is 30, but the number was up about 1,200 percent this year.
So far this month, he added, they have responded to 146 calls about fires, the average being 78 for November.
Nine days into the month, that number is already up almost 200 percent.
Though no large brush fires have been reported in Dawson County, Emergency Services Chief Lanier Swafford said the department has received numerous calls about the smoke and haze.
The Georgia Department of Public Health is urging people, especially individuals with chronic heart and lung diseases, to protect themselves from smoke from wildfires.
For healthy people, smoke from wildfires that contains particles from burning trees and shrubs can irritate eyes and the respiratory system. However, smoke can worsen chronic health problems such as lung disease, asthma, allergies and increased risk of heart attacks and stroke, according to the department. People with existing respiratory conditions, young children and elderly people are especially susceptible to health effects from this smoke.
"We especially urge parents and caregivers to pay careful attention to children and older adults and seek medical care if needed," said Jean O'Connor, director of Chronic Disease Prevention at the Georgia Department of Public Health in a press release. "Older adults are more susceptible to smoke because of their increased risk of heart and lung problems. Children's airways are still developing and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults."
According to the department, smoke can irritate the eyes and airways, causing coughing, a scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, headaches, stinging eyes or a runny nose. People with heart disease might experience chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath or fatigue. People with lung disease may not be able to breathe as deeply or as vigorously as usual, and they may experience symptoms such as coughing, phlegm, chest discomfort, wheezing and shortness of breath.