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

Wildfire Smoke Begins Drifting Into Western Montana

Missoula County Health Department air quality specialist Sarah Coefield tracks smoke moving through western Montana all day.
Nora Saks
Montana Public Radio

Widespread wildfire smoke smudged the sky in parts of western and central Montana Thursday morning. A Missoula air quality specialist says it marks the unofficial beginning of what is likely to be a long wildfire smoke season. 

Smoke from wildfires burning in Idaho and Washington drifted into Montana Wednesday night. Missoula City-County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield says this is one of the earliest starts to smoke season she can remember. 

“I was honestly thinking I’d have another week or two before I had to get into wildfire smoke updates.” 

By mid-Thursday morning air quality conditions in Frenchtown and Seeley Lake deteriorated to 'Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.'

That means people with heart and lung disease, children and the elderly should limit prolonged outdoor exertion. Air quality was ‘Moderate’ in a handful of other western and central Montana communities, including Missoula.

Coefield urges Montanans to prepare for the summer smoke season by visiting The website features a trove of information including current smoke conditions, health risks and tips for improving indoor air quality:

“Make sure you have a safe space inside your home to get some respite when we do have those smokey days. Pay attention to how your body is reacting to smoke and check in on your friends and neighbors. This tends to be a community effort to help us all get through what’s never a very fun season for anybody, Coefield says.

Friday’s air quality should be better than Thursday’s, but a return to grubby conditions is likely this weekend.

Learn how to make an inexpensive home air filter.

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Explore what wildfire means for the West, our planet and our way of life, with Fireline, a six-part series from Montana Public Radio and the University Of Montana College of Business.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at
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