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Smoke engulfs southern US as drought-fueled wildfires rage on

Smoky conditions and multiple wildfires burning over the interior southern United States will remain a problem in the coming weeks.

A large area of abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions continues from part of the lower Mississippi Valley to the southern Appalachians.

Now that the leaves are beginning to come down, new fuels are becoming available for new fires to ignite and existing fires to spread, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Evan Duffey.

More than 100 wildfires of various size and containment were burning in the Southern states as of the middle of this week. This autumn, the fires have consumed more than 50,000 acres in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee according to state forestry departments and the Incident Information System. In Kentucky alone, more than 16,000 acres have burned.

"There is a much greater amount of dry, dead fuel that is available to burn due to the long-term drought in the region," Duffey said.

Smoke (gray) can be seen from more than two dozen fires (red) burning over the interior southern United States on Wed., Nov. 9, 2016. (NASA/Satellite).

November is a time of year when winds suddenly can kick up and cause fires to spread rapidly. This can occur as storm systems and fronts become stronger.

"Rapidly shifting winds associated with fronts passing through can be especially challenging for firefighters," Duffey said.

One such front will drop in late this week. The front is unlikely to bring any rain to the region.

"When the wind shifts, it can cause the fire to burn rapidly in a new direction," Duffey said. "While the winds can help smoke to disperse embers can be carried miles away and cause spot fires."

"The mountainous terrain in the southern Appalachians also causes fires to behave and spread similarly to that of the West," Duffey said.

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The long nights and weak sunshine during November can also cause the air to become stagnant for extended periods of time.

A temperature inversion created during these conditions can trap the smoke in the lowest layer of the atmosphere, especially during the late-night and early-morning hours. The valleys can trap thick smoke in some areas.

The stagnant episodes can be especially problematic for folks with respiratory problems.

Long-lasting haze and smoke from the fires have been noticeable in many communities, including Asheville, North Carolina, Knoxville, Tennessee, and Atlanta.

Moving forward, there will be some opportunities for rainfall. A front may have enough moisture to bring sporadic rainfall around the third weekend of November. These opportunities could become more frequent and beneficial as the winter progresses.

Until the fires are extinguished, people with respiratory problems will need to avoid smoky areas or remain indoors during the worst episodes as much as possible.

People should avoid the use of outdoor flames of any sort and be extremely careful when using outdoor power equipment. Do not through cigarette butts out of your vehicle. Never park or idle your vehicle over dry brush as the hot exhaust can ignite a blaze.