Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - In 2017, the Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake torched over 100,000 acres and impacted hundreds of families with its extended periods of heavy wildfire smoke, so much so that the state DPHHS and the Missoula City County Health Department and the University of Montana conducted impact studies on area residents over the following years.

KGVO News spoke to Montana DPHHS Asthma Control Program Manager, B. J. Biscupiak and Jesse Fernandes, a supervisor also with the Asthma Control Program about funds provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help reduce indoor air pollution in several counties and Indian reservations in western Montana.

EPA and DPHHS to Create 'Clean Shelters' for Wildfire Smoke

“So this is a three year grant from the EPA which will focus on wildfire smoke preparedness and indoor air quality in Montana communities,” began Biscupiak. “We do intend to focus on six target counties and two tribal nations as well, but we will have some additional activities that extend throughout the entire state to provide communication and training opportunities around wildfire smoke and indoor air quality. The counties that we plan to work with include Missoula, Ravalli, Flathead, Lake, Glacier and Lincoln County, and the two tribal entities are the Blackfeet Nation and Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes.”

Fernandes said the indoor air quality project will attempt to control the amount and size of wildfire smoke particulate.

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The Plan is to Reduce the Amount of Wildfire Smoke that Enters a Building

“One of the biggest focuses of this is addressing particulate matter that's less than 2.5 microns in size, which you often hear called PM 2.5,” said Fernandes. “Those particles have been shown to impact blood vessels and lung health for cardiovascular disease and asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and other chronic conditions, as well as being more harmful for younger children and older adults and other at risk people.”

Fernandes said the funds will become available well ahead of the upcoming 2024 wildfire season.

Missoula and Ravalli Counties will be First to Receive the EPA Funds

“We're hoping that we will get official notice of award in we've been told maybe early February and then our work plan was to focus first on the Missoula County and Ravalli County areas for our year one and then progress through the identified communities over years two and three of the project,” she said. “So once we have the funds and can get a contract in place, then we'll work on identifying which buildings would best be served.”

From the total EPA grant of $10.67 million, the local project will receive $610,000 to help mitigate the effects of wildfire smoke and develop a ‘clean shelter recognition’ program in the identified counties and tribal reservations. Get more details here.

Looking Back at One of Montana's Most Explosive Fires

The 2013 Lolo Creek Fire burned within 6 miles of Missoula

Gallery Credit: Dennis Bragg

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