Wildfire

Unhealthy Smoke and Record Heat Return to Northern Rockies

Unhealthy air was recorded around most of Montana's larger cities — Billings, Butte, Bozeman and Missoula

By Associated Press
A smoke-shrouded sun sets behind a forested ridge west of Kalispell on July 17, 2021. Hunter D'Antuono | Flathead Beacon

BILLINGS — Record-breaking heat is back in the forecast for the Northern Rockies, where thick smoke from wildfires drove pollution levels to unhealthy levels again Tuesday.

Unhealthy air was recorded around most of Montana’s larger cities — Billings, Butte, Bozeman and Missoula — and in portions of northern Wyoming and eastern Idaho, according to U.S. government air monitoring reports.

More than 40 large fires were burning in the three states and smoke was also pouring in from blazes on the West Coast.

Temperatures as high as 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) were forecast in eastern Montana. Billings and Sheridan, Wyo. were expected to set new record highs.

Across the U.S. West this summer, firefighters have confronted an unusually large number of wildfires early in the season as drought grips a region that’s also warming due to climate change. That’s making it harder to control and put out fires that have been blanketing much of the nation with smoke in recent days.

About 5,000 firefighters were deployed across the Northern Rockies as of Tuesday.

Pollution levels were high enough that Montana officials recommended people limit their outside activities in Bozeman, Dillon, Frenchtown, Seeley Lake and Broadus. N95 masks can protect against wildfire smoke but need to fit properly to be effective.

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