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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Air Quality Update For Western Montana, August 14, 2017

Arrastra Creek Fire

Missoula City-County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield's latest air quality report:

"Good news, everyone! The air is as good as it looks and smells! We're looking at generally Good to Moderate air quality everywhere but Seeley Lake. Not only can you see the mountains, you can see the trees on the mountains. 

It's always a good sign when you can see the trees on the mountains. The cloud cover last night helped ward off strong overnight inversions, and with the exception of Seeley Lake, even areas that are near active fires have generally Good to Moderate air quality this morning.

Strong winds helped scour valleys clear of smoke yesterday, and we saw relatively minimal fire activity yesterday and overnight. This has resulted in nice, breathable air for most of Missoula County. This would be a good time to open things up and air out your homes. It's also a good time to air out your lungs.

This is a nice respite, but the fires are not out. If you look down toward Lolo, you can see the smudgy brown smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire high over the valley. Normally, we would see that smoke at ground level in the morning. So don't get comfortable.

Air quality is Unhealthy in Seeley Lake. The Rice Ridge Fire wasn't particularly active yesterday, but it is still burning and it produced enough smoke for conditions in Seeley Lake to deteriorate in the early morning hours. This helps underscore the trouble with Seeley Lake - even with a relatively weak inversion and minimal fire activity, the particulate concentrations in Seeley Lake are exceeding 100 ug/m3 this morning. For Seeley Lake standards this wildfire season, that seems pretty good, but it is still bad air. Fortunately, the inversion is pretty weak, and I expect the smoke in Seeley Lake should lift up and mix out later this morning.

When air quality is Unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors. People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.

Today we are looking at surface and transport winds from the west and northwest and more fire activity today than yesterday. As a result, we are likely to start seeing some overhead smoke later this afternoon when the Lolo Peak and Sunrise fires wake up and the breezes deliver the smoke to our area. The smoke may not hit ground level until late afternoon or early evening. Most areas should have pretty decent air quality for several hours today.

We are currently benefiting from southwest flow aloft over the Canadian wildfire smoke, which is sending the Canadian smoke north into the Northwest Territories. Unfortunately, that pattern is going to start changing tonight, and we are likely to start seeing Canadian smoke headed back toward western Montana by Tuesday.

I don't have any great pictures for today (the clouds are obscuring smoke and they also are preventing heat detection from the active fires). Hopefully there will be more pretties available this afternoon."

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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