Knox County is under a burn ban to try to fight the smoke in the air from forest fires in neighboring counties, but officials say there’s not much they can do to help clear the air.

Knox County’s Director of Air Quality Lynne Liddington said the thick haze that’s descended on the Tennessee Valley is due to wildfires burning in the area.

She said smoke from those fires drifts into the area and sticks around – the mountain ranges on either side of Knoxville trap it here – and the ongoing drought means there’s plenty to burn.

“It’s just a tinderbox right now,” Liddington said.

The Air Quality Index puts the threat to the entire area in yellow – a moderate level. But that’s still not without potential health impacts for those with pre-existing heart of lung conditions.

“Pollutants in the air can flare up and exacerbate their existing conditions causing shortness of breath, chest tightness,” said Dr. James Shamiyeh, M.D. with the UT Medical Center Heart & Lung Institute.

Officials said the burn ban is one way to not add to the problem, but otherwise, all we can do is wait.

“Just like the weather, this is not something we can control,” Liddington said.