State Agencies Highlight Wildfire Preparation and Air Quality Awareness
August 9, 2023
Warmer months mean wildfires can occur throughout the state and nation. Wildfire smoke from both in-state and out-of-state wildfires periodically impact Montana’s air quality causing unhealthy air. Prevailing weather patterns often transport smoke into Montana from fires burning in California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Canada. This wildfire season, know how protect your health, homes and prevent wildfires.
“Montana often sees smoke from other states and Canada,” said DEQ Director Chris Dorrington. “DEQ is working to expand air quality monitoring to provide more localized information for Montanans to make informed decisions about their health during wildfire season and poor air quality events.”
A new permanent air quality monitor was recently installed in Havre, and additional monitors will be deployed later this year in Choteau, Eureka, Glasgow, and Glendive—adding to the 21 permanent air quality monitors already in place throughout the state. The new monitors are part of an effort by DEQ to expand air quality monitoring in the state.
Exposure to wildfire pollutants can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation, alter immune function and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. Populations known to be most vulnerable to wildfire smoke exposure include children, senior citizens, pregnant people, people with chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disease—including asthma and diabetes—and outdoor workers. Other factors that may contribute to increased vulnerability include housing instability and limited access to medical care. Respiratory symptoms such as dry cough, sore throat and difficulty breathing are common to both wildfire smoke exposure and respiratory illnesses.
If you are experiencing severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or chest pain, you should seek prompt medical attention by calling 911 or calling ahead to the nearest emergency facility.
“Let’s all do our part this summer to prevent wildfires, which in turn helps protect public health,” said Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Charlie Brereton. “Air quality can change quickly, so it’s important to pay attention to current conditions and take steps now to prepare in case of emergency, such as maintaining an adequate supply of medication and becoming familiar with the numerous resources that are available.”
When air quality is unhealthy, state agencies encourage Montanans and visitors to consider the following tips to protect their health:
• Before heading outside for any physical activity, check for air quality updates and pay attention to any air quality advisories. Air quality information is updated regularly at: Todaysair.mtdeq.us
• When wildfires occur, continue to monitor DEQ’s site for changes in air quality.
• An N95 respirator offers protection against wildfire smoke particulate matter when worn correctly to achieve a proper fit and seal. However, the use of filtering facepiece respirators can cause breathing issues for some individuals. For this reason, individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease, should consult with their healthcare provider prior to respirator use. Respirators do not come in sizes suitable for young children, so they are not effective at reducing wildfire smoke exposure for this population.
• If the air quality is poor, limit outdoor activities and keep your indoor air clean by shutting all doors and windows and setting any air conditioning units to recirculate indoor air.
• Consider using HEPA air filters indoors to reduce overall smoke exposure.
• Pay attention to visibility. How far can you see in the distance? Deteriorating visibility indicates worsening air quality conditions.
• Maintain an adequate supply of food and medication (more than five days).
• If you have a chronic lung or heart condition, check with your healthcare providers before the fire season about precautions to take during smoke events.
• Do not perform any activities that will add to indoor pollution such as lighting candles.
• Use the “air recirculate” feature in vehicles when possible.
• If traveling, check the air quality at your destination and have a backup plan.
• For information about how to protect your health during wildfire season, go to:https://dphhs.mt.gov/airquality
This summer, DEQ will post smoke forecasts during times when smoke is causing air quality impacts. The forecasts will be posted to DEQ’s Facebook account (@MTDEQ) and can be viewed on: Todaysair.mtdeq.us by clicking on the “Montana Smoke Forecasts” link.
“Over 75% of wildfires in Montana are caused by human activity which directly jeopardize our homes, communities, and well-being,” said DNRC Director Amanda Kaster. “We can’t control the weather, but we can control our actions in order to prevent human-caused fires from occurring in the first place.”
It is important that we all take action to prevent wildfire starts when working and recreating outdoors. Here are a few simple ways to reduce your wildfire risk and limit the chances of causing wildfire:
• Avoid burning or conducting other activities that involve sparks or fire on hot, windy, or dry days.
• Never leave a fire unattended, and ensure your campfire or burn is cold to the touch when you are finished.
• Regularly maintain your vehicle and equipment and avoid driving or parking your vehicle and operating equipment near dry vegetation.
• Report any unattended or uncontrolled fires to 911.
• Protect your home from wildfires by implementing simple preparedness measures, find useful tips at https://www.mtfireinfo.org/pages/preparedness
Through our collective action to prevent fire starts, we can minimize the number and severity of fires this year.
Knowing how to prevent wildfires and what to do in the event of a smoke event will prepare visitors and Montanans for a safe summer.
“With all the excitement Montana has to offer, it’s important to recreate responsibly. Let’s all stay vigilant to ensure our beautiful and natural landscapes can be visited by future generations for many years to come,” said Montana Department of Commerce Director Scott Osterman. “If wildfires do happen, and your vacation is impacted, there’s still a lot of Montana to enjoy. Visit our Fire Information for Travelers web page for updates and planning resources.”