Many residents were told to leave the typically busy Seeley Swan area because of hazardous smoke levels MTN News photo

SEELEY LAKE – Health officials say the residents of Seeley Lake are experiencing dangerous levels of wildfire smoke that have never before been monitored in Missoula County.

Air quality specialists now say it’s essential that residents of Seeley Lake take steps to protect themselves, and they say the most effective way to do that is to leave.

Sarah Coefield with the Missoula City-County Health Department said that since Aug.1, air quality in Seeley Lake has hit hazardous levels seven times, and it’s not going to get better anytime soon.

Coefield said smoke from the Rice Ridge fire is going to continue funneling in Seeley Lake every night where it enters buildings and puts every resident at risk of serious health effects. Health effects can include reduced lung function, heart attack and stroke.

Story continues below

Seeley Lake residents who do not wish to pre-evacuate should consider spending the night and morning away from town and returning to their properties after the worst smoke has lifted. Always check to make sure conditions have improved before returning to Seeley Lake.

The Red Cross has set up a shelter in the Potomac Community Center. Seeley Lake residents who do not have another place to go should consider spending nights at the Potomac Red Cross shelter. The shelter is located at 29827 Potomac Road in Potomac. Anyone seeking to stay at the shelter may call the Red Cross of Montana at 1-800-272-6668.

If you cannot leave the area, health officials recommend using a HEPA air filter. The Missoula City/County Healthy Department has also issued the following recommendations to Seeley Lake residents:

The Missoula City-County Health Department is issuing stronger recommendations for Seeley Lake residents to avoid the dangerous wildfire smoke in the community.

Recent air monitoring readings show record levels of harmful wildfire smoke in Seeley Lake. Indoor air is not safe. The smoke that is outside is also inside the buildings.

The recommendations are for everyone, but they are especially important for groups with higher health risk from breathing smoke: infants, children, pregnant women, people with asthma, lung or heart disease, and everyone 65 and older. 

Spend as little as time in the Seeley Lake area as possible.

  • If you must be in Seeley Lake during the day, leave the area at night. The worst smoke is gathering overnight and is entering buildings.
  • Consider moving at-risk family members out of the area
  • If you do not have anywhere to go, the Red Cross has set up a shelter in the Potomac Valley. Anyone seeking to stay at the shelter may call the Red Cross of Montana at 1800-272-6668.

Summer practices for school athletic events should be canceled or moved to a different community with clean air.

  • If practices are moved to an area with clean air, they should be low intensity. Anyone who is spending the night in Seeley Lake is breathing dangerous levels of harmful smoke pollution and should not exert themselves until smoke has stopped entering the town and their bodies have had time to recover.

If you must stay in Seeley Lake, being inside does not provide adequate protection from the smoke. Improve your indoor air with:

  • Air conditioning operating on “recirculate.” The only time to switch off recirculate is when the air clears, which often happens during a few hours in the afternoon.
  • An air filtering system equipped with a HEPA filter that is sized appropriately for the room you are occupying or sleeping in. The room with the filter needs to be sealed off from outside air. The HEPA filter must be rated to clean particulate pollution that is 0.3 microns in diameter or smaller.

Do not rely on particle or surgical masks to protect your health. They provide no protection against the very small particles you breathe in from wildfire smoke. 

Info Line: 258-INFO
Climate Smart Missoula HEPA information handout
EPA guidance for Hazardous Air Quality

Red Cross Shelter:
Potomac Red Cross Shelter
29827 Potomac Road, Potomac, MT 59823.
Anyone seeking to stay at the shelter may call the Red Cross of Montana at 1800-272-6668.