Fire activity around Missoula and Hamilton prompted local officials to order stricter precautions Thursday as smoke filled the valleys to unhealthy levels.
“What started as little light ash fall this morning has turned into full-blown 'Welcome back to the campfire!' this afternoon,” Missoula County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield said Thursday afternoon. “ Visibility has plummeted, and so has air quality.”
Missoula County and the Lolo National Forest imposed stage 2 fire restrictions starting Friday morning after roughly 138 new fires reported across the northern Rocky Mountains on Wednesday. That includes 20 active fires burning about 90,000 acres in Montana – seven of which are larger than 2,000 acres.
“Our resources are strapped pretty thin right now, and conditions are continuing to deteriorate daily,” Missoula County Emergency Management Director Adrian Beck said on Thursday. “The Forest Service and state have local resources available. But if something really got established, our ability to order resources nationally is extremely hampered right now. We encourage people to be incredibly cautious with everything they’re doing.”
Stage 2 fire restrictions prohibit all fires, smoking and campfires except in developed campground fire rings or other fireproofed areas. They also disallow operating any internal combustion engines, welding, open-flame tools or explosives between 1 p.m. and 1 a.m. as well as driving motorized vehicles off designated road and trails. All fireworks are prohibited from use on county parks, state and federal public lands, and private lands within the county.
Missoula city officials echoed the restrictions on city open space and conservation lands, including the North Hills, Mount Jumbo, Tower Street Conservation Area and other public spaces, as did Ravalli County and the Bitterroot National Forest.
As of 5 p.m. Thursday, air quality was labeled “unhealthy” in Missoula, Frenchtown, Seeley Lake and Hamilton.
When air quality is unhealthy, people with heart or lung disease, smokers, children and the elderly should limit heavy or prolonged exertion and limit time spent outdoors. People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan. People experiencing symptoms of heart or lung disease associated with smoke exposure should contact their health care provider.
Coefield said under these conditions, it’s recommended to postpone or delay sporting events, or practice indoors. Athletes with asthma or respiratory illnesses are advised not to participate.