North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue declared a state of emergency Saturday for 29 counties as crews battled wildfires that have consumed more than 70,000 acres.
“I want to assure residents of North Carolina that the state Division of Forest Resources and its partnering agencies are working hard to contain the fires in Eastern North Carolina,” Perdue said in a statement on her website.
The emergency order means North Carolina can receive aid from federal authorities as well as other states.
Authorities are contending with several blazes, including one in the Alligator River Nature Preserve in Dare County spanning about 50,000 acres, CNN affiliate WRAL in Raleigh reported Saturday.
Blazes in Pender and Bladen counties burned more than 22,000 acres, WRAL reported.
Twelve counties were under an air quality alert because of “fine particulates” circulating in the wind, according to the state’s Department of Environmental and Natural Resources.
The agency issued a Code Purple alert –- very unhealthy –- for the weekend in coastal communities due to the blazes.
“Some of the highest particle pollution levels that (the state Division of Air Quality) has ever measured were in smoke plumes from wildfires,” the agency said on its website. “Fine particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs and be absorbed into the bloodstream, causing or aggravating heart and lung diseases."
The governor said the U.S. Forest Service Incident Management Team was working with more than 300 federal, local and volunteer fire departments to contain the blazes, which have been caused by drought and high winds.