Winds can bring smoke from wildfires burning in California, Oregon and Washington into Montana. Residents and visitors in Montana are encouraged to check air quality regularly and follow the guidelines associated with the air quality levels. Where air monitors aren’t present, use visibility guidelines to estimate air quality. To check air quality visit: TodaysAir.mt.gov
Exposure to wildfire pollutants can irritate lungs, cause inflammation, alter immune function and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections, including COVID-19.
Populations known to be vulnerable to wildfire smoke exposure include: children, senior citizens, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disease—including asthma and COPD—and outdoor workers. Other factors that may contribute to increased vulnerability include homelessness 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 COVID-19. 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.
Cloth face coverings that are used to slow the spread of COVID-19 offer little protection against harmful air pollutants in wildfire smoke because these coverings do not capture most small particles in smoke. Masks with better filtering such as N95s provide the best protection against wildfire smoke particulates, but because N95s and other medical-grade masks are used by frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the best response to heavy wildfire smoke is to remain indoors. Anyone with lung or heart disease, or who is chronically ill, should check with their health care provider about which mask is best for them.
When air quality is unhealthy, DPHHS and DEQ 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 hazardous air quality advisories. Air quality information is updated regularly at: TodaysAir.mt.gov
- When wildfires occur, continue to monitor DEQ’s site for changes in air quality.
- Pay attention to visibility. How far can you see in the distance? Looking at visibility can help estimate air quality.
- If the air quality is poor, limit outdoor activities and keep your indoor air clean by keeping all doors and windows shut and setting any air conditioning units to recirculate indoor air.
- Consider using HEPA air cleaners indoors to reduce overall smoke exposure.
- Monitor the COVID-19 outbreak at covid19.mt.gov
DEQ will post smoke forecasts to the DEQ website if air quality worsens. To view the updates visit: TodaysAir.mt.gov and click on the “Wildfire Smoke Outlook” link.