Wildfires Spread Across Seven Southern States

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Dozens of wildfires continue to burn across southern states on Wednesday, blanketing large areas with smoke and prompting health officials to warn people to stay indoors.

Some 40 large active fires are being tracked by the U.S. Forest Service across at seven southern states. More than 80,000 acres have burned in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia.

While a stubborn drought and warm winds are being blamed for the underlying conditions, Tennessee said on Tuesday that of about 1,238 wildfires that have burned across the state this year, almost 50 percent involve suspected cases of arson.

Forestry officials in Tennessee said 11 new fires popped up over 24 hours on Monday, even as crews were spread out battling 67 blazes totaling nearly 16,000 acres across the state. More than 200 patients have been hospitalized in Chattanooga due to breathing difficulties related to the circle of wildfires surrounding the city, the Tennessee Department of Health said on Tuesday.

Some 5,000 firefighters have been called in from across the country to help put out the blazes. Several states have called in the National Guard for assistance.

In North Carolina, firefighters are struggling with 15 large fires. Personnel working the state’s largest fire, which has burned more than 13,000 acres so far, appeared to have turned a corner. The Tellico blaze, as it is known, was 74 percent contained by Tuesday afternoon.

Smoky conditions have caused health officials across several states to issue air quality alerts and advise residents to avoid outdoor activities.

The region has been suffering an intense period of dryness that began in May 2016 and intensified throughout the summer, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory. Parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina are in the midst of an “exceptional drought,” according to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Parts of Georgia have not seen rain for over a month.

North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky have declared states of emergency.

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