A faint brown haze enveloped Baltimore and much of Maryland Thursday from wildfires in western Virginia that have been burning for weeks, fueled by drought and steady wind.

The distinct smell of char got the attention of residents of Baltimore County, prompting the Baltimore County Fire Department to issue an alert that it posted on X, formerly known as Twitter:

“We are receiving numerous calls from residents, mainly in the central and western areas, of a strong odor of smoke. Maryland is feeling the effects of the wildfires in the Virginia area. There is no major fire event in the County or surrounding region,” the department said.

Light, southerly winds have driven the smoke into neighboring states, impacting air quality slightly in Maryland. While the air quality in Baltimore is measured as “good,” the quality in the western part of the state is rated “moderate.”

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The Maryland Department of the Environment updated its forecast to show moderate air quality in the Hagerstown and Maryland Piedmont areas of the state.

The Maryland Department of the Environment issued an air quality alert for parts of the state on Nov. 16, 2023, because of smoke from wildfires in western Virginia.
The Maryland Department of the Environment issued an air quality alert for parts of the state on Nov. 16, 2023, because of smoke from wildfires in western Virginia.

Air quality in Virginia is also mostly good to moderate, although a few spots in the western part of the state where fires have been concentrated are rated as unhealthy for sensitive groups.

Virginia’s Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency Nov. 7 as some fires broke containment lines and spread. Last week about 10,000 acres had burned. The state’s fall fire season typically runs from mid-October to the end of November.

Chad Austin, a district forester with the Virginia Department of Forestry, said most of the fires are contained or controlled and that fire activity in the fall is not uncommon. He said the lack of precipitation has set apart this fire season, making it more active than usual.

“Usually we have a tropical event [storm],” Austin said. “We haven’t had that this year.”

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The Department of Forestry reported nine active fires in Virginia as of Thursday afternoon, most in the far western part of the state. The closest active fire to Maryland was in Louisa County, about halfway between Richmond and Charlottesville.

The National Weather Service’s fire forecast for the region indicates the low humidity will persist until the weekend, with the best chance for measurable rain arriving Tuesday.

hugo.kugiya@thebaltimorebanner.com

Hugo Kugiya is a reporter for the Express Desk and has formerly reported for the Associated Press, Newsday, and the Seattle Times. 

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