West Montana Wildfires Drop Air Quality to a Record Low

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(Newswire.net — October 6, 2017) Missoula, Montana — Destructive wildfires have torn through western Montana mercilessly this year. Homes have been evacuated, public parks and residential properties have been destroyed, and the smoke has severely compromised the health of local residents. Wildfires and oppressive smoke are not uncommon problems in Missoula, Montana and surrounding areas, but the damage has been extraordinary this year.

One month ago, the smoke in the Seeley Lake part of Missoula was so dense that the Air Quality Advisory Council encouraged people to avoid the area entirely. The smoke and air pollution posed a serious threat to public health. Smoke inhalation is always a health risk, but the kind of air pollution that comes from wildfires is especially dangerous. Babies and children, seniors, asthma sufferers and other medically fragile individuals are most likely to be affected by the currently dreadful breathing conditions in Missoula.

A record was set on September 6, 2017 with the poorest air quality in Missoula-area history according to Sarah Coefield, head of Environmental Health for Missoula County. Throughout this day, the air pollution was almost 18 times higher than the standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

According to Ms. Coefield, “Seeley Lake set a record for their all-time worst air quality with a PM2.5 24-hour average of 623.5 ug/m3. For perspective, the 24-hour National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for PM2.5 is 35 ug/m3. In order to protect human health, we don’t ever want to exceed the NAAQS.”

Over $300,000 has been raised for the Montana Wildfire Relief Fund. The Montana Community Foundation helps to keep local areas thriving economically and is available to respond to disasters and assist in recovery efforts.

Unfortunately, virtually nothing can be done to quickly remove the smoke or toxins from the air. A high-pressure ridge often traps the smoke and the air quality tends to worsen even after wildfires have been extinguished.

Residents or employees in Missoula County must take precautions during this time. Staying inside is not good enough, according to the Air Quality Advisory Council. Residential or commercial air purification systems are critical to filtering out smoke-generated toxins. In order to keep the smoke and pollution out, the room with the treated air should be sealed off from the outside air as much as it is possible. Most air conditioning units have a feature that will recirculate the filtered air. It’s a good practice to use this feature until the air clears up, and switch it back on when the smoke returns. The smoke in Missoula typically clears up for a few hours in the afternoon.

HEPA air filters are highly recommended by the local Heath Department. For those living in wooded, dry climates, installing a HEPA air filtering system is the best way to prepare for the yearly threat of wildfires. Investing in a top of the line system that is appropriate for the size of the home or office will ensure that your living space provides healthy breathing conditions even when there is oppressive smoke outside. Portable air filtering systems can also be very effective for smaller spaces.

Post-wildfire season, some professional HVAC maintenance is always necessary. Local homeowners and property managers understand the inevitable toll that smoky conditions take on Heating, Cooling, and Ventilation systems. When using an HVAC unit to filter and purify the air indoors, the filters and ductwork are bound to become very dirty.

After the wildfire season passes, it’s important to schedule a service appointment for HVAC maintenance. The technician should change your filters and clean out any blockages and film left behind from the polluted air. Failing to do this will hinder the system’s performance much in the way that a clogged artery causes a heart to work a lot harder than it should. Dirty filters will overwork heating and cooling units, waste energy and drive up utility bills. It will also shorten the lifespan of these systems.

Early October to mid-November is a good time for Missoula residents to get routine maintenance on heaters, air conditioners, and ventilation systems. By then, the worst of wildfire season will have passed and temperatures will be cooling down dramatically. 

As of right now, western Montana’s climate is showing signs of improvement, but there are still serious concerns regarding the health of safety of Missoula-area residents. Fires spread despite the efforts of firefighters and park rangers to control them. 

The Air Quality Advisory Council is closely monitoring the situation and publishes reports on air quality on a daily basis. Air quality has been consistently been graded as “Very Unhealthy” in the towns of Missoula, Frenchtown, Rock Creek, and Arlee. Conditions are considered “Hazardous” in the Potomac Valley, Lolo, Clearwater Junction, Seeley Lake, the Swan Valley, and Florence. 

It’s important for people in the area to pay close attention to updates and warnings even now as we’re moving further into the fall season. Missoula County residents can easily keep track of local emergency notifications via an online service called Smart911, or they can follow the daily updates that are posted on the Missoula County Montana website, under the Environmental Health Department. There is no substitute for being aware and prepared!

Garden City Plumbing & Heating

4025 Flynn Lane
Missoula, Montana 59808
United States
(406) 728-5550