Energy & Environment

Why does the DC area smell like smoke?

Numerous residents in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area on Monday reported the smell of smoke, which experts say is likely related to a major wildfire in North Carolina.

Fire departments in D.C., northern Virginia and southern Maryland shared on social media that they had received multiple reports of a smoke scent but had not identified any local fire or event tied to the odor.

Brian LaSorsa, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s (NWS) Baltimore/Washington Weather Forecast Office, told The Hill the smell is likely related to a fire that spread to more than 5,000 acres in eastern North Carolina over the weekend.

The North Carolina Forest Service said that as of Sunday evening the so-called Last Resort fire in rural Tyrrell County — about two hours south of Virginia Beach — was about one-third contained.

“Given that residents in DC region are smelling it, it’s possibly coming from North Carolina wildfire,” D.C. City Administrator Kevin Donahue echoed in a tweet on Monday afternoon.

LaSorsa said a combination of wind shifts and low speed are carrying the smoke north and preventing it from dispersing.

Calming wind patterns will likely dissipate it by Monday evening, LaSorsa said.

Residents may notice some impacts to air quality stretching from southeastern Virginia through Baltimore.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) interactive Air Quality Index (AQI) map indicates “moderate” AQI in that area for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) — small particles caused by pollutants like soot.

A moderate AQI indicates a value of 51-100, a range that is acceptable for most people but can pose hazards to vulnerable populations.

The NWS Baltimore/Washington office estimated that winds shifting northwest on Monday evening will likely disperse the smoke from west to east.

Tags DC maryland North Carolina Virginia wildfire

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