Nectar...to those in the wildfire business. Ah, the sweet smell! However....dangerous for some.

DALLAS (AP) - Smoke from agricultural fires in Mexico and
Central America has spread across the eastern two-thirds of the
state, sparking an influx of asthmatic children to hospitals from
Mission to Austin and graying skies as far north as Dallas.
Some of the fires - burned to wipe out old crops or clear rain
forest for farmland - have burned out of control this year because
of an unusually dry dry season. Persistent southeasterly winds are
picking up the smoke, carrying it about 900 miles and dumping it on
South Texas, said Bryan Lambeth, a senior meteorologist with the
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
"It's definitely above normal this year," Lambeth said. "This
is the worst smoke that we've seen since 1998."
That's when the smoky haze was so bad that U.S. fire fighting
experts were sent to southern Mexico to help combat the fires,
whose smoke had reached as far north as the Great Plains.
South Texas has labored under the gray haze for over a week. The
TCEQ warned this week that the level of particulate matter the air
in McAllen and surrounding areas was unhealthy for sensitive
groups, meaning the elderly, children, pregnant women and people
with respiratory conditions or heart problems.
The air quality has been taking its toll on the health of South
Texas residents.
About 50 percent more children and about 30 percent more older
adults have been coming into the emergency room with respiratory
problems at Mission Hospital since Sunday, Chief Operations Officer
Mario Garza said. People also were complaining that their eyes were
burning.
"You don't expect 100 plus temperatures in the springtime, and
to add insult to injury, you have this very difficult breathing
situation," Garza said. The smoke was so prevalent that Garza said
his collar turned completely black at a recent ribbon-cutting
ceremony.
The smoke travels north from South Texas in what Lambeth called
pulses. Central Texas has registered moderate levels of smoke for
more than a week and the Dallas-Forth Worth was hit by the haze on
May 3. A few sites in both regions had levels deemed unhealthy for
sensitive groups.
The smoke was a likely culprit in the breathing difficulties
suffered by seven asthmatic children admitted to Children's
Hospital of Austin on Monday, said Lanora Doud, a respiratory
therapist at the hospital, which averages about two admissions of
asthmatics a day.
"Kids have a harder time than adults because their airways are
a lot smaller," Doud explained. The children also have had to
contend with the weather changes, humidity and new plants that May
brings, she said.
Her advice to parents of asthmatic children: "Keep 'em
indoors."
The TCEQ also recommends setting air conditioning units to the
recirculate mode and limiting outdoor activities, particularly
physically stressful ones.
Some relief may come to Central and North Texas Sunday, when a
cold front is expected to sweep the smoke back to South Texas. But
it will probably return by the middle of next week, Lambeth said.
On Wednesday the line of smoke was pushing farther west,
possibly reaching Abilene and San Angelo, Lambeth said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)