NORFOLK -- Shifting winds are ensuring that nearly everyone living within 50 miles of the Great Dismal Swamp will eventually be impacted by massive clouds of thick smoke rising from the persistent wildfire.
On Wednesday, a Code Red air quality alert was issued for much of Hampton Roads, the most populated area near the sprawling Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge.
Thursday, as the fire continued to grow at a rapid rate, the winds shifted toward the south, prompting a Code Red air quality for four North Carolina counties, including the city of Elizabeth City, N.C.
13News meteorologist Julie Wilcox said another shift in the wind Friday will blow the smoke toward the west, sending the smoke inland to areas which so far have been spared the worst of the smoke.
Authorities tell 13News the burning peat moss is what makes the fire so smoky.
Dr. Marilyn Van Horn with the Hague Medical Center in Norfolk says she's been treating several patients a day because of the smoke.
"The smoke is caustic. It is an irritant to our lungs," said Dr. Van Horn. "The problem with it is that it causes tiny cells that produce mucus to overproduce."
This means many people are at risk of getting a runny nose, colds and even pneumonia.
It makes an especially dangerous situation for those who already have breathing problems. She recommends those folks stay inside and make sure they are using their medicine properly.