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Code Orange Alert downgraded, Mid-South air quality now 'moderate'

Published: Oct. 14, 2015 at 10:31 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 15, 2015 at 1:13 PM CDT
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(Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The air quality Code Orange Alert for Shelby, DeSoto, and Crittenden counties expired at 12:30 a.m. Thursday, and now those counties are under a moderate air quality alert.

The mulch fire causing these air quality alerts started burning Tuesday afternoon. The worst of the smoke caused a Code Orange Alert on Wednesday after an air quality monitor at Shelby Farms recorded unhealthy levels of particulate matter in the air.

Thursday's moderate alert means the air quality returned to acceptable levels, but people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution could have problems breathing in the air.

The National Weather Service took to Facebook on Wednesday morning to explain what was keeping the smoke in the air despite the worst of the fire being extinguished.

Firefighters spent Tuesday fighting a brush and mulch fire off Interstate 240 and Macon Road.

The fire started around noon. Teddy Hubbard said he was one of the first people to see and hear it.

"It was obviously roaring," Hubbard said. "You could hear it from several hundred yards away; you could hear the flames engulfing whatever it was burning."

Smoke filled neighborhoods in the area, with several people contacting WMC Action News 5 to try and figure out what was happening.

What was burning was a large pile of mulch. The blaze sent heavy smoke throughout the area.

"We came in this morning; it was so thick you could barely see the interstate," said Darrell Pittman.

Pittman owns Vans to Go on Summer Avenue. He said the smoke was so thick that he considered closing.

"I've already had complaints from my customers on it this morning, but if it continued or we have somebody we have to show a vehicle to--they've got allergies; you know that's going to affect them."

WMC Action News 5 meteorologists have been monitoring problems the smoke is causing.

"Biggest problem with the smoke is the smoke for people who are downwind of it," Meteorologist Ron Childers said. "With the winds being out of the southwest, that means people who are in northeastern Shelby County of that area of mulch, they are going to be heavily affected by it."

Hubbard said he was so amazed by the fire, he took out his camera phone and began recording it.

"It was definitely an inferno, and as you can see, it's still going on right now. 24 hours, this was yesterday at 1:30 or 2:00 I was definitely here," Hubbard said. "Any kind of smoke in the air that causes problems, you know, increases pollution—it's not good for the city."

"It's considered unhealthy," said Bob Rodgers.

Rodgers and his pollution team at the health department issued a warning about the smoke. They have an air monitor in the area and Rodgers said this blaze could cause health problems for the young, old and anyone with a respiratory illness.

"This is registering some pretty high numbers that we consider potentially dangerous to someone's health; anyone that might be in the plume of the fire."

Ron Childers said it may take a while before the smoke totally clears from the area.

"It is very thick and because the wind is so light, it is not going to dissipate as much and linger around longer," he said.

Residents said they have been told it may take fire crews another day to put the fire out.

The odor was detectable Wednesday along the nearby Shelby Farms Greenline.

"I never had any sort of respiratory problems until I came here to Memphis -- because of the allergies and stuff," said Memphis Alice Murikan."

Murikan and her dog Pluto were out for a walk and planned on paying more attention to health alerts prompted by the fire.

Rodgers conveyed that doing so was a good idea.

"Even healthy people should try and like reduce extra exertion or activity in that smokey area," he said.

Investigators said the best way to prevent fires like this is to make sure mulch beds are kept moist. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Copyright 2015 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.