Smokey skies in Missoula

MISSOULA – Fires burning across the state continue to blanket Western Montana under a thick layer of smoke,  smoke that many of us are breathing in on a daily basis.

The air quality in Western Montana hasn’t been clean for quite some time. There are between 35 and 250 smoke particulates per cubic centimeter of air and when you breathe in that contaminated air, those particulates settle in the lungs.

“So these irritants can settle in there and people that have baseline lung disease can be more at risk for problems from that,” said Dr. Kristin Anderson, who practices family and preventative medicine.

Those problems range in severity, you may get a sore throat or worsening asthma, but some problems could warrant immediate medical attention.

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“Chest heaviness is a pretty specific symptom, and that’s one that doctors take very seriously, so obviously if you are feeling chest heaviness, it’s something that new to you or worsening, worse with activity, you need to be examined immediately,” Dr. Anderson said.

Doctors advise people to avoid the outdoors as often as possible in order to help save your lungs.

“This isn’t the time to go and do some activities outside, certainly this isn’t the day to work on your garden, but rather try to find some fun activities to do inside for the small ones and the young ones,” Dr. Anderson said.

Missoula is a very active community, and people may not like the idea of spending the rest of the summer indoors, so they might be tempted to go to a hardware store and buy a paper mask. When air quality is bad, officials say paper masks really don’t help.

“Basic masks are probably not going to make much of a dent in what is going into your lungs from the smoke,” Dr. Anderson said. “They generally stop large particles, but not the smaller particles.”

N95 industrial masks are recommended for those who are required to stay outside for

Smokey skies in Helena, taken Aug 29. Photo credit John Riley

work, but Dr. Anderson said it’s best to stay indoors as much as possible.


As of Thursday morning, air quality had improved in Helena to Moderate.

For more information on air quality conditions click here.

MTN’s Eric Clements