Originally created 05/26/98

Haze from Mexican forest fires stretches across South



MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The smoke from widespread forest fires in Mexico turned the air hazy across much of the South on Memorial Day, but it wasn't enough to slow down holiday weekend festivities.

"The beaches have been crowded and the businesses have done real well," said Becky Warner, a hotel guest relations manager in Gulf Shores.

The haze was thick enough to obstruct the view from the bridge leading onto Texas' South Padre Island.

"But when you get here, it's OK," said convenience store clerk Manuel Gutierrez.

More importantly, he said, "It's busy."

Upper-level wind steered the haze over Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina throughout the Memorial Day weekend.

The pattern is expected to continue for at least several days, with no sign that any weather system is developing that would offer any relief, said Greg Machala, a forecaster at the National Weather Service.

The haze has been apparent as far north as North Dakota.

It was first visible in Alabama on May 13.

"You could see it on radar. It was a big, thick plume that moved across the area," weather service forecaster Ron Murphy said.

He said the haze had no impact on temperatures, which ran a few degrees above normal through the holiday weekend with highs in the 90s.

In Montgomery, neither the gray gunk nor the heat slowed down the record crowd of 126,000 at an outdoor music festival, Jubilee City Fest, spokesman Ty Fondren said.

Texas officials issued a health alert because of the thick air last week. Some outdoor athletic events were postponed and school groups canceled field trips.

No similar health warnings were issued elsewhere across the South.

However, Alabama Health Officer Don Williamson said Monday that conditions were being monitored.

"It hasn't been a big enough issue yet," he said.

The wind that carried the haze affected a hot air balloon festival in Decatur. Morning flights at the Alabama Jubilee had to be canceled Sunday because the wind topped the 12 mph safety limit, although the balloons were able to fly safely again in the afternoon and again Monday morning, hospitality chairman Phillip Kelly said.