Forest fire smoke degrades air quality to harmful levels

Forest fire smoke degrades air quality to harmful levels

14 August 2007

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MT, USA — The smoke from forest fires burning throughout the state and region Monday prompted environmental health experts to declare the air in Southwest Montana “unhealthy” and warn people against being outdoors any longer than they have to be.

“If you’re struggling or having a hard time or experiencing discomfort, go inside, close your windows and limit your activity,” Tim Roark, Gallatin City-County Health Department environmental health director, said.

The smoke in the Bozeman area is coming from two forest fires south of Butte and others in Idaho. It’s hovering in the valleys because the winds blowing from the east and west and the high-pressure systems are creating inversions, said John Coefield, Montana Department of Environmental Quality meteorologist.

And, “It’s not going to get better right away,” he said.

More smoke is expected to blow into southwest Montana in the next few days. “It’s just going to stay and circle around overhead and slowly thin out,” Coefield said.

Monday may well have been the smokiest day so far this year in the Gallatin Valley. The air smelled of smoke. The Bridgers and other mountain ranges could not be seen from downtown Bozeman.

Chris McGraw, a builder working on a new subdivision off Valley Center Road and North 19th Avenue, was outside all day.

His eyes itched and his nose burned from the smoke, he said. But it was tolerable and he had gotten used to it.

“It’s kind of like hot, dry air, like a typical fireplace,” he said. “My throat is a little raspy.”

Another builder, John Feight, said the smoke didn’t bother him.

“This morning, you could smell the difference,” he said. “As far as breathing, I haven’t really noticed a difference.”

Walking along West Grant Street near Montana State University, Kaaren Jacobson, a Bozeman city commissioner, had a mask over her nose and mouth.

The lining in her nose is sensitive, she said, and the smoke and ash cause her to get sick.

“The smoke and the particulate matter in the air are causing upper respiratory congestion,” she said. “I’ve been wearing this for weeks.”

People with lung and heart diseases, the elderly and children should avoid prolonged exposure to the air and remain indoors, the DEQ stated. Symptoms to watch for include breathing difficulties, chest pain, wheezing, coughing, headaches, dizziness and nausea.

“The main thing is your body will tell you how it’s doing.,” Roark said. “Are you having trouble breathing? Do you feel you are catching a lung full of smoke? You kind of have to be the judge and listen to your body.”

In addition to Bozeman and Livingston, other Montana cities with “unhealthy” air include Missoula, Hamilton, Butte, Dillon and Helena, the DEQ stated.

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