After a clear summer with blue skies and record temperatures (10 days at or above 100 degrees), the smoke finally found its way to the Missoula Valley, largely stemming from the Trail Ridge fire at the south end of the Bitterroot Valley.

Benjamin Schmidt, an air quality specialist with the Missoula City-County Health Department, said the air quality in the Missoula Valley had reached “unhealthy for sensitive groups” on Sunday.

The air quality in Lolo was listed as “unhealthy.”

“Smoke settled into the valleys of Idaho and Montana last night,” said Schmidt. “If you looked straight up this morning, you could see blue sky while the mountains were masked by smoke.”

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Air quality on Monday didn't improve much, and the smoke thickened at points, leaving the region to smell like a distant campfire.

Schmidt said the Trail Ridge fire appears to be the major source of smoke for the Bitterroot and Missoula Valleys. But several other fires, including the Hog Trough fire, the South Fork fire, and fires in Idaho and Oregon also may be adding their share of smoke.

“In this morning’s satellite image, you can see how the Oregon fires calmed down over night and how the smoke settled into the Idaho and Montana mountain valleys,” Schmidt said. “This is a reminder that as smoke episodes persist, adverse health impacts will increase.”


The National Weather Service office in Missoula on Monday issued an elevated fire danger for Wednesday with hot temperatures, low humidity, gusty winds and a potential thunderstorm.

A red flag warning was in effect for much of the Continental Divide on Monday while areas to the west were under fire weather watch. Temperatures are expected to cool toward the weekend to more seasonable norms.

To deal with the smoke, Schmidt said portable air cleaners are recommended and filters should be frequently replaced.

“Even if you must be outdoors at times, your respiratory and cardio systems will thank you for the clean air you get at home,” he said.