Experts Predict Normal Air Quality Levels This Fire Season
Fire season is around the corner, and that means air quality concerns for western Montana. NBC Montana reports air quality specialists don't predict any major problems for western Montana this summer, but they said it all depends on fire season in neighboring states.
"We can still see smoke from other regions come and hit us pretty hard," said Missoula County air quality specialist Sarah Coefield.
Fires in Washington and Idaho in 2012 and 2015 made air quality the worst on record for western Montana.
Missoula resident Howard Toole remembers getting smoked out completely.
Missoula parent Elizabeth Cole said, "There was a lot of trouble breathing outside, and I think even indoors it was still a problem."
Frankie Rodriguez said it was terrible and he tried to stay inside as much as possible.
Missoula County measures air quality with machines inside of a shed at Boyd Park. That data measures when air quality exceeds a healthy level.
Coefield said particulates exceeded that level three times in the last seven years. "Last year, Montana didn't have a whole bunch of major fires, but we got hit really hard by fires from out of town," she added.
When there are too many particulates in the air it can directly affect people's breathing.
"I think I'm more concerned for my children and children here in town than any other age group," Cole said.
"I haven't had problems in the past, but my lungs aren't getting any better, and I'm not getting any younger, so yeah I think about it," Toole added.
Coefield said, "The more that you're running around and breathing through your mouth, you're just increasing the dose of smoke that you're getting. Smoke is a cumulative product, so the more you're in it, the worse it gets."
She said it's important for people to be prepared this year. "The best thing you can do is get an air filtering unit for air in your house," she said, because air quality indoors can be just as bad as outside.
Coefield said air quality predictions are made by monitoring mountain snowpack levels. Dry terrain is subjected to a longer potential burn season, and that could mean a bigger time frame for dangerous air pollution levels.
She said fires can be so hard to predict, they can never predict air quality levels for certain.