081117 seeley smoke1 kw.jpg (copy)

A contract fire firefighter stands outside his truck in downtown Seeley Lake several weeks ago. Scientists are studying the effects hazardous smoke had on residents in and around Seeley Lake due to wildfires that raged in the area.

Seeley Lake set a record Wednesday for all-time worst air quality, Missoula County air quality specialist Sarah Coefield said Thursday morning.

At 623.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air (ug/m3), pollution in the area of the Rice Ridge, Liberty and Bob Marshall Wilderness fires was nearly 18 times the National Ambient Air Quality Standard over a 24-hour period.

“Today may be worse,” Coefield wrote in her morning report at 10:45 a.m. “Seeley Lake has exceeded 1,000 ug/m3 for the past five hours.”

Hazardous air quality also continues to plague the Potomac Valley, Lolo, Greenough at Clearwater Junction, the Swan Valley and probably Florence, Coefield said.

“The smoke from yesterday is still with us this morning, and it’s either been holding pretty steady or getting thicker as the hours wear on,” Coefield wrote in her morning update.

Missoula’s air is Unhealthy, two steps down from Hazardous, as is that over Frenchtown and Rock Creek.

“Smoke from the Rice Ridge fire has filled the Seeley Lake Valley and it has made its way over the Swan Valley, where conditions have been deteriorating all morning,” Coefield said. “Liberty fire smoke is swamping the Clearwater Junction/Greenough area and has poured into the Potomac Valley. Meanwhile smoke from the Lolo Peak fire is pooled in the Bitterroot Valley, creating Hazardous conditions and severely limiting visibility.”

Coefield said there are “no rays of sunshine” in Thursday’s forecast.

“The smoke is so thick that we are unlikely to see any sky, and sunlight will be muted throughout the day,” she said.

Surface and transport breezes will be easterly and meager, and the inversions aren’t likely to break until some time this afternoon. Still there will be no significant relief from the smoke until the weekend, when potentially strong winds could bring a return to active fire behavior.

An exception may be in Mineral County where Unhealthy air quality may possibly improve Friday, according to wildlandfiresmoke.net.

Meanwhile, Coefield concluded, “Try not to breathe outside too much today. Curl up next to an air filter and think kind thoughts toward your lungs.”

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Mineral County, Veterans Issues Reporter

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian