Helena – The Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s Today’s Air website has several resources available that people can use to minimize or avoid the harmful effects of smoke pollution during wildfire season.
Wildfires can create hazardous smoke pollution during the summer months. The smoke contains particulates of soot that can irritate your eyes and your respiratory system. It may also worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. Smoke pollution can affect people many miles away from the source of the fire and can last for days.
The particulate matter in smoke can increase susceptibility in people with heart or lung diseases — such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or congestive heart disease — and can aggravate existing medical conditions. The elderly, children and people with existing lung disease may not be able to breathe as deeply or vigorously as they normally would, and they may experience symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath.
Every day at www.todaysair.mt.gov, DEQ publishes air quality monitoring information on a near "real time" map of particulate concentrations for most major Montana cities. During wildfire season, the department’s meteorologist also publishes daily smoke updates with satellite photos, smoke conditions, forecasts, information about health effects and an easy-to-use air quality index to help the public understand how levels of smoke can affect health.
In areas where DEQ does not have air monitors or for persons without ready access to the Today’s Air website, visibility can be used to help identify unhealthy smoke levels. The procedure to determine the forest fire smoke index value is to face away from the sun and determine the limit of your visible range by looking for targets at known distances (miles). The visible range is where even high contrast objects totally disappear. The visibility ranges and corresponding heath affects categories are:
13.4 or more miles - Good
13.3 - 8.8 miles - Moderate
8.7 - 5.1 miles - Unhealthy for sensitive groups
5 - 2.2 miles - Unhealthy
2.1 - 1.3 miles - Very Unhealthy
1.3 or fewer miles - Hazardous
For more information about air quality conditions during fire season you can contact the DEQ Air Resources Management Bureau at (406) 444-3490. Medical questions about the health effects of smoke should be directed to your local or tribal health department or your personal health-care provider.