The smoke has returned and brought down the level of our air quality here in Western Montana.

Here's the latest from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

As of 4PM Thursday, air quality is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups with local areas that may be Unhealthy in Missoula.  Air quality is generally Moderate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups in Frenchtown.  Smoke from Idaho wildfires landed heavily in the Missoula area this afternoon.  The smoke may stick around tonight, and due to a fairly strong inversion, we may be waking up to a smoky morning.  This, coupled with another expected pulse of Idaho smoke Friday afternoon means air quality conditions in the Missoula area is likely to stay Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, and may deteriorate to Unhealthy on Friday.

Conditions are generally worse south of Missoula in the Bitterroot Valley, and there may be local areas that are Unhealthy and may become Very Unhealthy the further south you go in the valley.  The Mustang fire in particular has been filling the Bitterroot Valley with smoke.  That smoke should stay south of Missoula County for the immediate future, but it has been hitting the Hamilton area pretty hard. The more northern end of the Bitterroot Valley is also being hit with the Powell Complex smoke that is currently filling the Missoula valley.

This afternoon's satellite photo shows the extensive plume from the Mustang complex stretching across Montana.  We are also seeing an influx of smoke from the Powell Complex making its way over the Idaho/Montana border.  As the afternoon heats up, the wildfires increase in activity, producing large columns that then deposit the smoke in our area.

For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, access Montana’s "Today's Air" web site.

If you are concerned about air quality in your vicinity, and you are not near one of Missoula County's air pollution monitors (located at Boyd Park in Missoula, Frenchtown and Seeley Lake), you can use visibility guidelines to gauge local air quality. Visibility guidelines are also useful for making decisions about outdoor sporting events.  Here is a document with decision making recommendations that coaches and parents can use to determine appropriate activity levels. As always, individuals should use common sense and be aware of their own reactions to the smoke.