A haze and strong smell of smoke filled the air in Hall County on Thursday following reports of smoke throughout the northern part of the state due to wildfires near the Tennessee line.
Heavy winds brought the smoke to the area Thursday, Division Chief Keith Smith with the Gainesville Fire Department said, and he added that the smoky conditions could persist for a few more days.
“It’s really not going to resolve until we get some rain” or a wind direction shift, Smith said.
As of Thursday, no rain was in the forecast for the next week, according to the National Weather Service.
And winds of 10 mph with gusts up to 20 mph could either redirect the smoke or make the fires stronger, according to Smith.
One of the South’s largest blazes, in the Cohutta Wilderness area just south of the Georgia-Tennessee line, grew rapidly from Wednesday to Thursday with high winds spreading the flames. Nearly 300 people are battling that fire, which has consumed 10,000 acres of forest, the U.S. Forest Service said.
Capt. Zachary Brackett of Hall County Fires Services advised residents to report any visible fire or illegal burning. The county was not issuing burn permits Thursday, and any outdoor burning is “strongly discouraged,” he said.
Dr. Ron Beebe, an allergist at The Longstreet Clinic, said people should stay indoors and run the air conditioning. He also advised against opening windows.
“It’s good advice for almost everyone to avoid outdoor activities as much as they can,” especially strenuous activity, Beebe said.
Schools in Hall County have been “given discretion regarding outdoor activities,” system spokesman Gordon Higgins said. Most are not going outside for recess, he added.
No limits have been placed on outdoor sports practices, which would only affect football teams entering the GHSA playoffs.
Gainesville City Schools Athletic Director Billy Kirk said all outdoor sports activities were canceled, but as with Hall, most sports are complete. The football team only had a short walk-through planned for Thursday’s practice.
Beebe said those who must be outside should wear a mask from an allergy store that will help filter small smoke particles out.
Beebe said children and people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic lung disease and chronic heart disease are especially at risk of problems from the smoke. Some local day cares are not allowing young children outside.
Symptoms of upper airway issues with the smoke include irritated eyes, sneezing, nasal congestion and sore throat, according to Beebe. But lower airway symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough, wheezing or breathing with exertion would be more worrisome, Beebe said.
Editors Shannon Casas and Clark Leonard contributed to this report.