The National Weather Service says that due to a wildfire burning on High Island in Jefferson County, Houston-area residents may see and smell smoke over the next 12-24 hours and beyond. Due to changing wind conditions, smoke which was mostly contained to Galveston and Brazoria Counties Friday is shifting westward toward the city.
The fire in a remote area of the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge grew exponentially Friday, to as much as 5,000 acres. Officials said it has the potential to spread, possibly impacting up to 5,700 acres of coastal marsh.
Rough terrain makes firefighting from the ground difficult. The smoke billowing into the area created a haze that wafted for miles. Authorities say it is mostly salt grass which is burning, and it's very difficult to extinguish.
So many concerned residents were calling in about the smoke that the Galveston County Office of Emergency Management activated its reverse 911 system. They called about 15,000 people to tell them what was burning, and let them know they should only be worried about the smoke if they have respiratory issues.
Officials at the wildlife refuge say they believe the fire was manmade. There were no lightning strikes in the area Thursday night or Friday. They can't say though if the fire was accidental or intentional.
Houston residents should not be alarmed if they see a smoky haze or smell smoke. Residents with sensitive or compromised respiratory systems should take precautions to avoid breathing smoky air. This includes limiting contact with outside air until the smoke clears. You should expect that if winds shift you might see or smell the smoke also where you are.
Again, officials say you only need stay inside if you have a sensitive respiratory system.
Denise Ruffino with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said high humidity and heavy dew overnight and into Saturday should leave only some smoldering spots and reduce smoke.
The refuge, established in 1980, covers nearly 60,000 acres of marshland and is home to the largest concentration of alligators in Texas.
The Associated Press contibuted to this report.
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