Heavy smoke causes widespread community safety concerns
THICK blanket of smoke settled across the Southern Downs this week as large scale fires tore through surrounding bushland.
The poor air quality caused alarm within Warwick on Wednesday when smoke became so dense it severely impacted visibility.
The Southern Downs Regional Council received numerous calls from residents complaining of health concerns and fire danger.
"I would describe it like pea soup," Southern Downs Mayor Tracy Dobie said.
"I've never seen it that thick before.
"People were calling wanting to know where the smoke was coming from and why it entered our region so quickly."
A number of wind changes pushed smoke into the valley from large mountainside fires in Dalveen, Swanfels and North Branch.
"A whirlwind went through that stirred up the fire at Dalveen and brought that smoke towards Warwick," Cr Dobie said.
"There was also smoke blowing north from New South Wales."
There aren't any air monitoring network stations located on the Southern Downs, which makes it difficult to ascertain how hazardous the air has become.
Continued smoke exposure poses a number of health concerns to the community, particularly children, the elderly and those with pre-existing respiratory conditions.
Scots PGC College is taking a number of cautionary measures to ensure the wellbeing of their students during fire season.
"There's a whole range of things happening as we continue to monitor the situation," marketing officer Helen Bohm said.
"There have been some external notifications to ask us to consider erring on the side of caution and we've been careful not to put anyone at risk."
Heavy smoke forced the school to cancel the Warwick Community Junior Touch Carnival, any outdoor training sessions, and move outdoor PE classes inside to their gym.
"We've opened up classrooms and indoor spaces during play times to encourage kids to stay indoors," Ms Bohm said.
"The availability of the dining hall has also been extended so kids can be inside longer after eating."
Ms Bohm said nurses and teaching staff are closely monitoring students with asthma, and some asthmatic students have been kept at home by their parents.
The compromised air quality can create long lasting problems forresidents with poorly controlled asthma, according to Dr Lynton Hudson from the Condamine Medical Centre.
"If their condition isn't well controlled it wouldn't take much smoke at all to create a problem because the airways are sensitive and spasm easily," Dr Hudson said.
"If their conditions are well controlled it'd take a lot more, probably until the smoke is so thick they couldn't see clearly for 100 metres.
"But there is no hard and fast rule - It depends on the longevity of exposure and how thick the smoke is."
Community members experiencing coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath should take antihistamines once a day and consult their doctor, according to Dr Hudson.
BOM meteorologist Livio Regano cautioned the community not to expect crystal clear skies "any time soon."
"Forecasting smoke can be difficult because it depends on the fires, but if we look at the wind its predicted to come from the northeast for the next week or so, so anything burning to the northeast, including those fires around Toowoomba and the Main Range, should move straight into Warwick," he said.