Most of North Carolina is in a Code Orange air quality alert on Thursday because tiny smoke particles can get into people’s lungs.

Smoke from Canadian forest fires has returned to the United States and North Carolina, posing health risks to the general public on Thursday, the state Division of Air Quality reported.

In Fayetteville and other parts of the state, the sky was hazy on Thursday morning, and some people may have noticed the scent of burnt wood. The smoke returned on Wednesday, according to the Division of Air Quality. Canadian smoke previously blanketed North Carolina and much of the United States in the first week of June.

As of Thursday morning, the western two-thirds of North Carolina — most counties along and west of Interstate 95 — were classified as Code Orange in air quality due to the number of tiny smoke particles in the air that could get into people’s lungs and affect their breathing. These smoke particles are smaller than the width of a human hair, Air Quality spokesman Shawn Taylor said.

“Code Orange on the Air Quality Index represents unhealthy air quality for sensitive groups,” a news release says. “Older adults, children of any age, and people with respiratory conditions such as asthma should limit prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.”

The counties in Code Orange on Thursday included Cumberland, Buncombe, Henderson, Gaston and Cleveland.

Winds were light on Thursday, Taylor said, so the smoke was not dispersing quickly.

The counties east of I-95, including New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties, were in Code Yellow air quality status on Thursday. This means conditions are moderate.

The Air Quality Index has five levels, from Good (Code Green) to Very Unhealthy (Code Purple). Code Orange is in the middle of the range.

Thursday morning’s forecast says the Code Orange conditions will last until midnight. A new forecast is scheduled to be issued at 3 p.m., Taylor said.

Senior North Carolina reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and [email protected].

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