Western Montana has reaped the benefits of a weather pattern that has kept wildfire smoke at bay. Weather and air quality experts say that will likely change soon.
Missoula City-County Health Department Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield offers this advice to western Montanans.
"Get outside and enjoy this beautiful September. Soak it in. We have a little bit of time before the smoke gets here."
A wave of thick, acrid smoke from the deadly wildfires spreading across Oregon and California is on track to roll into western Montana this weekend. Some weather models suggest Saturday, others Sunday.
"I was just on a really informative call with a lot of meteorologists and they were suggesting that because we have this high pressure coming in, that could push the smoke down, which would make it considerably worse if it does indeed get pushed down into our breathing space and potentially really degrade our air quality to a significant extent," Coefield says.
Smaller wildfires burning in Idaho could lead to hazy conditions by Friday afternoon.
It’s too soon to say how far east all this smoke may spread, but Coefield urges Montanans to prepare now for the possibility of an extended period of cruddy air quality. You can see the incoming smoke forecast with this satellite view.
If that happens Coefield recommends keeping those HEPA air cleaners running, making sure HVAC furnace systems have clean filters.
If you don't have an air cleaner or central air handler, you still have time to make a do-it-yourself box fan/filter combo to clean indoor air.
There are a lot of unknowns surrounding the predicted smoke event including how long it could last. Coefield says that ultimately depends on how those catastrophic western fires behave. She urges Montanans to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Cooler nighttime temperatures and recent precipitation have helped to limit the fire spread of the Bridger Foothills Fire northeast of Bozeman. That fire is estimated at 52 percent contained as of Thursday morning.
The Northern Rockies Coordination Center estimates the fire at nearly 13 square miles, with 83 percent of the fire on private land and 17 percent on Custer Gallatin National Forest land.
Fire officials report Bridger Canyon Drive from Boylan Road to Brackett Creek Road is closed to the public, including bikers and runners. Thursday morning Bridger Canyon Road opened to residents only, but is closed for a few hours each morning and early evening to allow fire crews to travel the road.
Fire behavior was expected to be limited today, but could increase Friday and Saturday as temperatures increase and fuels dry out. Additional smoke may be visible today.
The BobCat Fire 7 miles southeast of Roundup in Musselshell County is still estimated at just under 47 square miles and 60 percent contained.