Montana has been surrounded by raging wildfires all summer and now we have plenty of our own to deal with. One of the most challenging aspects of these wildfires is the particulate filled smoke that they produce. It can stay localized in valleys or continuously blow into the state with the jet stream. How can you stay healthy if you're susceptible to breathing issues?

At the moment, there are thankfully just a few locations in western Montana that are producing unhealthy Air Quality Index (AQI) numbers. However, as wildfire season continues, more of these 'poor' readings will pop up. In fact, earlier this summer when Montana was catching so much of the wildfire smoke from Canada, there was hardly a county in the state that had normal AQI numbers. So what are the actual numbers that make air quality unhealthy?

Air Quality Chart - EPA
Air Quality Chart - EPA

STAY INDOORS: Unfortunately if you have severe breathing issues, your best bet is to stay indoors during periods of smoky skies. Wildfire smoke is filled with particulates from the trees that have burned, and those particulates will aggravate any existing health issue.

WALK INSTEAD OF JOGGING: If you're a healthy person with no breathing issues, getting exercise is OK if the AQI isn't at dangerous levels. However, your rate of breathing plays an important part in "how much stuff you'll inhale". Going for walks instead of runs during smoky periods is smart.

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GET AN AIR PURIFIER: So logical, but few people prepare for wildfire season by purchasing an air purifier for their home. Buying one in the off season gives you more selection and probably a better price. By the time wildfire season hits (and WHO KNOWS where it will be bad from year to year), many big box stores are sold out.


Currently, outside of Polson, there are several AQI readings above 150 which is unhealthy. A little further west of there and the AQI improves dramatically to the 40s and 50s. The wind can change the levels incredibly fast. With 77 fires currently burning across the state, just one bad lightning storm could create terrible conditions somewhere new.

DRINK PLENTY OF WATER: It's the advice for just about everything, right? But keeping yourself hydrated and "flushed" of particulates is really important if you're in an unhealthy air quality environment.

DON'T RUN THE AC OR USE VACCUMS: MOST types of AC are just going to recirculate dirty air. If you've got a fancy one with a purifier in it, that's different. Research online to see if yours helps or hurts. (Most are NOT that fancy, FYI.) The same principal applies to're essentially recirculating some of the dirt on your floors. Not all of it of course. But don't do anything to make unhealthy air and worse.

AQI August 3 - IQair
AQI August 3 - IQair

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Scroll on for the National Fire Sprinkler Association's designated classification and rated flow for light blue, green, orange, and red fire hydrants.

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