Surrounded by wildfires, Missoula's air quality varies from day to day, the time of day, and even various locations within the area.

Air Quality Specialist with the Missoula City County Health Department, Ben Schmidt, said on Wednesday morning that air quality in Missoula varied from good to moderate to unhealthy for sensitive groups. And, what about that wood smoke that settles in the eyes and throat?

"The fires that are mainly affecting the Missoula valley are the Lolo Peak Fire and the Sunrise fire," Schmidt said. "There's another fire between the two that's putting out a little less smoke. Because they're so close to us, we're getting a lot of those volatile organic chemicals in the mix, the kind that give you that nice campfire smell. That's usually what people are smelling when they get up in the morning. We're not really even getting that much smoke, but we are getting that campfire smell."

Schmidt said location is the key to air quality.

"Where you are has a huge impact," he said. "These fires are fairly close to us, so you could be in the plume and be at unhealthy levels like in Lolo and Florence especially in the evening and early morning hours. Then, just a couple of miles away you could be in what is classified as good air quality. The variability is pretty strong. For instance, early this morning, the south side of Missoula where our monitor is, it was showing moderate air quality, yet on the north side or the Rattlesnake, with less than nine miles of visibility we had unhealthy for sensitive groups."

Get daily air quality reports here.


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