Missoula air quality is unhealthy; Lolo, Seeley Lake conditions are hazardous

The Rice Ridge fire outside Seeley Lake showed active burning on Tuesday, contributing to Wednesday morning’s hazardous air quality in that town. (inciweb.com)

Air quality was unhealthy, as of 7 a.m. Wednesday, in the Missoula Valley, Frenchtown, Condon, Clearwater Junction, Arlee and Clinton. Conditions remain hazardous in Florence, Lolo and Seeley Lake.

That’s according to air quality specialists at the City-County Health Department, who say the county’s air is being polluted not only by wildfires burning here but by an increasing number and size of fires in Oregon, Washington and California.

In her air quality forecast Tuesday night, specialist Sarah Coefield said a “multi-state plume” of smoke was “curving up into Washington, picking up Washington smoke, swinging around into Idaho and heading our way.”

There was significant activity Tuesday on the Lolo Peak, Liberty and Rice Ridge fires, all burning within Missoula County, and that added to the particulate count.

But conditions could improve Wednesday afternoon as temperatures warm and smoke leaves the valley floor.

“Strong winds in the forecast should help scour valleys clear of smoke in the evening,” according to the 7 a.m. Wednesday forecast. “However, there is likely to be widespread and fluctuating smoke impacts across the county today.”

Because of that variability, health officials are urging residents to use visibility as a guideline for gauging air quality at any given time.

If you cannot see five miles, the air quality is unhealthy.

When the air quality is unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit the time spent outdoors.

When the air quality is hazardous, all residents should limit or avoid outdoor exertion and stay indoors when possible.