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    Polk fire's smoky haze irritates bay area again

    By MIKE SAEWITZ

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2001


    Smoke and haze from the Polk County wildfires floated into Pinellas and Hillsborough counties on Thursday morning.

    But a shift in the wind should send the smoke back toward Polk today.

    Fire and environmental officials said residents did not call to complain as they had in February, when drifting smoke made it difficult to breathe.

    "People are aware where it's coming from," said St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue Lt. Chris Bengivengo. "It's not as bad as last time."

    A layer of warm air several thousand feet above cooler surface air created a "lid," or inversion, on smoke and pollutants, said meteorologist John McMichael of the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

    "The smoke hits the lid and can't go any higher," he said.

    Trapped close to the ground, the smoke then was swept westward by 17 mph winds into southern Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, McMichael said. By late afternoon Thursday, the smoke had reached downtown Tampa.

    Usually, air farther from the ground is cooler, McMichael said.

    Smoke dispersed as surface temperatures warmed Thursday morning and the lid was removed, McMichael said.

    In late February, winds blew smoke from Polk all the way north to Citrus County. Emergency Operation Centers in Pinellas and Citrus counties received numerous calls from residents who smelled smoke and feared a nearby fire.

    Peter Hessling, air quality division administrator for the Pinellas County Department of Environmental Management, said he was unaware of the drifting smoke.

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