New Website Details Effects of Montana Wildfire Smoke

Information on site includes current air quality, how to clean air in homes and offices, safe recreation, and more

By Molly Priddy
Smoke from the Howe Ridge Fire blankets Apgar Village in Glacier National Park on Aug. 19, 2018. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

As the summer wildfire smoke continues to choke the air in the Flathead, residents and visitors now have a new tool to help them stay healthy and safe in the haze.

A new website, www.MontanaWildfireSmoke.org, launched Aug. 16 as a way for residents and visitors to learn about current air quality across Montana, health risks from wildfire smoke, ways to keep the air clean in your home and office, how to recreate outside in the smoke while staying healthy, and a look at climate issues affecting fire seasons’ severity.

“Last summer was especially bad in Missoula, the Bitterroot Valley and Seeley Lake with record-breaking levels of particulate matter for an extended period. Emergency room, clinic and hospital visits all increased,” Dr. Paul Smith, a pediatric pulmonologist at Community Medical Center in Missoula, said in a prepared statement. “The impacts continued through the winter as hospitalization for lung infections increased and parents reported symptoms in their children for months.”

The website comes from Climate Smart Missoula with funding from the Montana Wildfire Relief Fund.

“We gathered this information after last year’s awful wildfire season saw communities like Seeley Lake engulfed in dangerously high levels of unhealthy smoke,” said Amy Cilimburg, Executive Director of Climate Smart Missoula. “Very quickly, we realized that the information we had complied should be in the hands everyone — health care providers can share this with their patients, coaches can use when making decisions for their young athletes, and all Montana families can make smart choices to stay healthy.”

The site also teaches about the science behind forest fires, and provides links to other helpful resources, such as a fire and smoke-plume map to see where the smoke from wildfires across the country is traveling.

Wildfire smoke looks to be an continual reality for Montana summers for the foreseeable future, and the smoke contains a mixture of gas and particles that can move deep into the lungs and circulatory system.

“As forest fires in the West grow in size and frequency and the season lengthens, the concern for the health of our communities grows too,” Sarah Coefield, air quality specialist at the Missoula Health Department said. “This problem is not going away — in fact, is likely to get worse, so we’ve got to help Montanans stay as healthy as possible. This website is a wonderful and needed resource when the smoke’s bad, but also as we plan for next year and the years to come.”

The website can be viewed at www.MontanaWildfireSmoke.org.

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