MISSOULA, Mont. - Health officials in western Montana are strongly recommending residents of Seeley Lake leave town due to hazardous smoke from area wildfires.
The 2010 U.S. Census put the population of the area at about 1,600.
The Missoula City-County Health Department says children, older adults, pregnant women and people with lung or heart disease could face serious health effects.
The amount of smoke in the air Thursday morning was nearly four times the level at which health organizations consider the air to be hazardous.
The agency notes Seeley Lake has one medical clinic and it is closed on weekends.
The department also advised moving or canceling school athletic practices and events until the air quality improves.
"We have literally never recorded wildfire smoke like we are seeing in Seeley Lake," said Coefield.
Everyone in town is talking about one thing.
"It was scary, it was so smoky," one tourist said.
"I would compare it to the smog in LA or some place," another visitor told NBC Montana on Thursday. "It's usually crystal clear and beautiful skies and you can see forever."
The smoke is also affecting small businesses.
"I have had three cancellations today because of the air quality. They don't want to deal with the smoke," said George Jergensen, who co-owns a rental shop for outdoor gear.
"We had a very good year last year. And this year's it's just been nil," Jergensen said. "It all started Aug. 1 with the lake closure."
The air will eventually get better, says Coefield, but just not any time soon.
"Once the smoke event is over most people should recover. But the smoke event is not over," she said.
The following alert was sent out by the Department of Environmental Quality:
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has issued an air quality alert for Granite, Flathead, Lake, Lincoln, Mineral, Missoula, Ravalli, and Sanders counties in effect until further notice due to smoke from fires in Canada and western Montana. Fires in Montana are causing severe localized impacts near active fires.
This includes Mineral County along I-90 corridor near the Sunrise fire and Seeley Lake near the Rice Ridge fire. Smoke from these fires is draining into the nearby valleys at night, causing severe air quality impacts from midnight through midday. The Missoula City- County Health Department has issued a recommendation that residents of Seeley Lake spend as little time in the area as possible due to the hazardous air quality.
An Air Quality Alert means that particulates have been trending upwards and that an exceedence of the 24 hour National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) has occurred or may occur in the near future.
As of 9 a.m.:
- Particulate levels in Seeley Lake are hazardous.
- Particulate levels in Quartz Creek are very unhealthy.
- Particulate levels in Arlee, Lolo, Missoula, and Superior are unhealthy.
- Particulate levels in Eureka, Florence, Hamilton, Libby, Philipsburg, and Thompson Falls are unhealthy for sensitive groups.
- Particulate levels in Clearwater, Columbia Falls and Frenchtown are moderate.
When air quality is hazardous state and local health officials recommend that everyone should avoid any outdoor exertion; people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, and children should remain indoors.
When air quality is very unhealthy state and local health officials recommend that people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, and children should avoid any outdoor activity; everyone else should avoid prolonged exertion.
When air quality is unhealthy state and local health officials recommend that people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, and children should avoid prolonged exertion; everyone else should limit prolonged exertion.
When air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups state and local health officials recommend that people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children should limit prolonged exertion.
When air quality is moderate state and local health officials recommend that unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion.
For more information visit the Montana Department of Environmental Quality at www.todaysair.mt.gov.