KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — A massive fire that broke out Wednesday afternoon at Fort Loudon Waste and Recycling sent a huge a plume of black smoke into the air that could be seen for miles.
Firefighters have managed to get the fire under control on Thursday, and the smoke has really died down. Neighbors who were evacuated were allowed to return to their homes.
The Knoxville Fire Department said what is burning is paper, cardboard, and plastic, which is what the company recycles. The burning plastic is what caused that heavy, black smoke, and that could be toxic if you are in close contact with it.
So, should you be worried about breathing it in?
Fire officials told 10News they were not currently concerned about air quality because most of the smoke is dissipating into the atmosphere.
But, for those in the immediate area affected by the heavy, black smoke, KFD did advise they move to an affected location or shelter in place with the doors shut and HVAC turned off. About 100 homes were under a mandatory evacuation for a time, but that's now been lifted.
Anyone in the direct smoke outside should have masks on, KFD said.
KFD spokesman DJ Corcoran told 10News "it's pretty nasty stuff."
Rural/Metro Captain Jeff Bagwell said that fires like this release sulfur, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and monoxide. He said if you smelled the smoke, it's likely the plastic that is burning.
If you are not in the smoke itself, Bagwell said, it's not at a level where it could really hurt you.
Who should be worried about breathing in the smoke?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s important for people to pay attention to local air quality reports during a fire if they are:
- "A person with heart or lung disease, such as heart failure, angina, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma.
- an older adult, which makes you more likely to have heart or lung disease than younger people.
- caring for children, including teenagers, because their respiratory systems are still developing, they breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults, they’re more likely to be active outdoors, and they’re more likely to have asthma.
- a person with diabetes, because you are more likely to have underlying cardiovascular disease.
- a pregnant woman, because there could be potential health effects for both you and the developing fetus.
The Knox County Health Department said people with the greatest risk are those living with heart or lung disease, adults over 65, children and pregnant women.
What are the symptoms of smoke inhalation?
Large amounts of smoke can trigger a number of symptoms. The KCHD said smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.
The KCHD and the EPA said:
- "Anyone may experience burning eyes, a runny nose, cough, phlegm, wheezing and difficulty breathing.
- If you have respiratory allergies, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, you might experience the following symptoms.
- People might experience inability to breathe normally, cough with or without mucus, chest discomfort, wheezing or shortness of breath.
- If you have heart or lung disease, smoke may make your symptoms worse.
- 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 may experience symptoms such as coughing, phlegm, chest discomfort, wheezing and shortness of breath."
What should I do to protect myself during a fire?
The EPA said during a fire, people in the area should pay attention to local air quality reports, use common sense and stay indoors.
- "Dust masks aren't enough! Paper “dust” masks or surgical masks will not protect your lungs from the fine particles in wildfire smoke. Scarves or bandanas (wet or dry) won’t help, either. Particulate masks known as N-95 or P-100 respirators will help, but they must fit well and be used correctly. They are sold at many hardware and home repair stores and online.
- Help keep particle levels inside lower. When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors even though you may not be able to see them. Try to avoid using anything that burns, such as wood fireplaces, gas logs, gas stoves - and even candles. Don't vacuum. That stirs up particles already inside your home. And don't smoke. That puts even more pollution in your lungs, and in the lungs of people around you.
- If you have asthma or another lung disease, make sure you follow your healthcare provider’s directions about taking your medicines and following your asthma action plan. Have at least a five-day supply of medication on hand. Call your healthcare provider if your symptoms worsen.
- If you have cardiovascular disease, follow your healthcare provider’s directions and call if your symptoms worsen. If you think you are having a heart attack or stroke, dial 9-1-1."
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