Multiple wildfires stirring up air quality

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) - There are now three wildfires burning in southern Arizona: the Horseshoe 2 near Portal, the Murphy Fire between Tubac and Arivaca, as well as the region's newest blaze, the Empire 2 Fire near Empire Ranch off Highway 83.

As a result, the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality issued a smoke advisory because of the fires--which collectively could compromise air quality across the region.

The pictures alone are pretty daunting as the Murphy Fire continues to grow west of Tubac.

"It definitely seemed like something that was more than just a little fire going on," said Kristin McAllister as she strolled the arts district in the heart of Tubac.  "I noticed that it smelled really smoky and at first, we thought maybe it was a barbeque or maybe somebody was burning mesquite.  But the smell of smoke was really pronounced in the air."

Late Wednesday afternoon, more than five thousand acres had burned with flames less than three and half miles from Tubac.

"I hope it gets contained early and not spread," said Tubac merchant Don Richardson.  "Three miles is not that far.  Even though we don't have any brush to speak of, it's still dangerous out there."

"We've been receiving probably about a phone call a minute, about 60 phone calls an hour."

That's Mike Lindsey, a communications specialist with the Tubac Fire District.

Over the last 48 hours, he's been extremely busy answering questions about the Murphy Fire.

"A steady stream of information," Lindsey says.  "The more information you feed people on a regular basis, the more comfortable they start feeling that everything is under control."

For the last year, Tubac Fire has used an alerting system known as Nixle.

Much like a Twitter account for public safety, Nixle followers receive updates from the agencies they choose.  And the information is instantly available.

"It's important to put your mobile phone in there because these messages are sent out to you as a text message to your phone--and that makes it get to you immediately," Lindsey says.

Only problem is, as of Wednesday, Tubac Fire only had about 150 subscribers to the Nixle alerts.

The system is completely free and all it takes is a few seconds to log onto www.Nixle.com and sign up.

"It's very important especially when we have a fire in our neighborhood like we do right now," Lindsey says.  "...to get more people involved in this because the ability to alert them immediately to what's going on is very key to us, to help protect the public safety out there."

Because of the fires, health officials encourage anyone with respiratory disease, heart problems or lung disease to avoid extended exposure to the outdoors.

If this can't be avoided, they advise people to reduce their level of exertion when in smoky areas.

They also recommend closing all doors and windows in addition to using air conditioning rather than evaporative cooling.

Copyright 2011 KOLD. All rights reserved.