Smoke from area wildfires covered Houston and surrounding cities

September 8, 2011 3:22:52 PM PDT
Houston area residents awoke this morning to find a thick blanket of smoke and haze had settled in over the city and surrounding areas.

Houston fire officials have been receiving a number of calls, concerned about the possibility of fires, but the smoke is from the continuing wildfire in the Magnolia area that is being fueled by the extremely dry vegetation. Officials in Sugar Land received calls as well, but they have also determined there are no fire hazards in the city at this time.

The smoky layer from this morning has primarily cleared out, and will continue to improve as the day goes on. According to ABC13 Meteorologist Travis Herzog, the smoky layer mixes in as the atmosphere heats up throughout the day. However, with the cool air overnight, Herzog cautions residents could experience a similar smoky haze again tomorrow morning.

Fort Bend County officials issued a statement that the smoke and haze residents saw in the air over Fort Bend County is from the wildfires elsewhere in the state. There are currently no immediately threatening wildfires in Fort Bend County.

While officials don't want residents to be overly alarmed by the smoke or haze, they do caution everyone to be conscious of the extreme fire danger that exists in our area at this time.

State health officials urge people to reduce their risk from wildfire smoke by taking the following precautions:

  • Stay indoors or limit outdoor activities as much as possible.
  • Avoid physical exertion.
  • Keep windows and doors of your home shut.
  • If you have air conditioning, run it with the fresh-air intake closed. Set wall units to "re-circulate."
  • Reduce other sources of indoor air pollution, such as cigarette smoking, burning candles, frying food and using aerosol products or fireplaces.
  • Do not use vacuum cleaners which can stir up dust already inside your home.
  • Keep your airways moist by drinking plenty of water.
  • Consider leaving the area or going to a shelter until smoke conditions improve.
  • Common symptoms of smoke exposure include coughing, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, stinging eyes and runny nose.

People should seek medical help if they have symptoms that worsen or become severe. Those without air conditioning should watch for signs of heat exhaustion such as fatigue, nausea, headache and vomiting.

Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper "comfort" or "dust" masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke. An 'N95' mask, properly worn, will offer some protection. More information on the health threat from wildfire smoke is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Some area schools are keeping children indoors and making changes to their schedules.

Houston ISD

"The smoke has not affected all areas of the district evenly. So, principals are being asked to monitor conditions at their school to determine whether it is appropriate to allow outdoor activities or to keep students indoors.

Crews have been dispatched throughout the most heavily affected areas of the district to perform air quality tests. At Halpin Early Childhood Center (10901 Sandpiper) air-conditioning units were temporarily shut down because of the density of smoke in the area. District personnel have the capacity to regulate A/C systems to ensure the safety and comfort of students and staff.

Smoke affected two other schools this morning. Those schools were Mistral Early Childhood Center (6202 Jessamine) and Sutton Elementary School (7402 Albacore). However, those schools were affected by the smoke from a nearby house fire. The same protocols were performed at those two schools as at Halpin ECC. The district's athletic department is monitoring air quality to determine if there will be any impact on outdoor events planned for this evening. Two schools have been affected.

The Lamar High School sub-varsity games that were scheduled to take place in Brenham will be rescheduled. The time and place will be announced at a later date.

The Jones High School versus Montgomery High School game scheduled for this evening has been cancelled. The District will provide additional updates as warranted."

Tomball ISD

"All outdoor activities, including recess, for elementary and intermediate school students have been canceled due to current air quality conditions. Tomball ISD made this decision for the safety of your child. We continue to monitor air quality conditions. Each morning, we will determine if outdoor activities will resume."

Katy ISD

"The Katy ISD Office of Emergency Management has been monitoring the situation regarding the wildfires north of our area. These fires, located in the Montgomery, Grimes and Waller County area continue to burn and produce smoke that continues to cover the Katy area.

This morning, the concentration of smoke in our area has significantly increased. Therefore, the district is limiting outdoor activity for all students until noon. In addition, we are closing the outside air intakes on our HVAC systems to help maintain the air quality in the buildings. District officials will continue to monitor the situation and will make a decision later this morning as to whether or not to restrict after school outdoor activities, such as athletic and band practices.

Teachers and school nurses will continue to monitor those students who are asthmatic and those with other respiratory conditions. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, "Common symptoms of smoke exposure include coughing, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, stinging eyes and runny nose." If a teacher sees a student with an increase in these symptoms, the student will be directed to the school nurse.

Please continue to monitor the Katy ISD website for more information about this situation as it becomes available."

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