By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters)--It's turning into the summer of smoke in parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
Public health officials in all three states have warned people with chronic respiratory problems or heart and lung disease to stay inside as smoke from wildfires in Florida and Georgia drifts north.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control warned residents of 13 counties of the possible health effects of smoke blowing their way on Tuesday from fires in southern Georgia's Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
"A large part of the smoke is particulate matter," said Adam Myrick, spokesman for the state environmental health agency. "It doesn't do anybody any good but it particularly affects those with long-term respiratory problems."
Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials and can hurt eyes, irritate respiratory systems and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta advises.
South Carolina health officials recommend that people with respiratory health issues limit their time outdoors to avoid the smoke, keep windows and doors closed, and run air conditioners but keep fresh-air intakes closed and filters clean to prevent smoke from getting indoors.
The Okefenokee's Honey Prairie fire, which started in April and has burned 287,822 acres, consumed more than 1,000 new acres on its western edge in the last three days, all within containment lines, Georgia Forestry Commission officials said Tuesday.
Georgia's Racepond and Sweat Farm Again fires have burned about 20,000 acres each and are 75 percent contained, officials said.
A new wildfire that started last week in Georgia has burned about 260 acres, officials said. All are producing a good bit of smoke and Georgia officials said they expect more. Residents of Savannah reported heavy smoke in the air on Tuesday.
Florida on Tuesday had 96 active wildfires, including its share of the Honey Prairie fire at the Georgia border, according to the Florida Division of Forestry.
Twenty-three of the fires have burned 100 acres or more. About 20,000 state acres and more than 300,000 federal acres have been scorched in these active fires.
A wildfire that broke out Saturday near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has destroyed about 700 acres, including set backfires, state forestry officials said. Smoke from it could drift up to North Carolina, officials said.
"Smoke is smoke, no matter what fire or state it comes from," Myrick said. "Take precautions, much in the way that you would avoid smoke if you were at a bonfire. Nobody goes and stands in the smoke."
(Editing by Jerry Norton)