Wildfires and Air Quality

Dry conditions have caused numerous wildfires in our state and region so far this year, and these fires have destroyed homes and forced hundreds of residents to evacuate. Since this is a very real threat in our area, it’s important to know what to do should a fire start near your home.

Some homes survive wildfires and some do not. Those that do survive almost always do so because their owners had prepared ahead of time. Here are some of the steps you can take:

  • Design and landscape your home with wildfire safety in mind.
  • Use fire-resistant materials on the roof and exterior; treat combustible materials with fire-retardant chemicals.
  • Clear excess vegetation and rubbish to create a 30 to 100 foot safety zone around your home.
  • Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees; hardwood trees are less flammable than pine, evergreen, or fir trees.

Visit www.firewise.org to learn more about preparing and protecting your home from wildfire.

If there is a wildfire in your area, officials may recommend or order that residents evacuate. Leaving your home and belongings behind may be difficult, but it is important to heed instructions for your safety and the safety of your family. Act quickly, and follow the instructions that are given. You may be asked to take a certain route or directed to a shelter area. Along with clothing, toiletries, and other necessary items, don’t forget to pack special health items or medications that you may need. Also, don’t forget about your pets! Ensure that you take enough food and other necessary supplies for them. Some shelters may not allow pets, so it may be a good idea to have a predetermined place for them to stay. Consider turning off your utilities before you leave.

Visit www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/wildfires/ to learn more.

The smoke and dust produced by fires can cloud the air and cause some individuals to experience burning eyes, an irritated throat, and breathing difficulties. Those especially at risk from the presence of particles in the air include people with heart and lung disease, older adults, and children.

If you smell or see smoke take the following steps to protect yourself and your family:

  • Stay indoors and use your air conditioner. If you don’t have an air conditioner, leave the area until the smoke is gone.
  • Avoid activities that put extra demands on your lungs and heart, such as exercise or physical chores.
  • Dust masks or other cloths, even if wet, will not protect you from smoke.

For more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on air quality and fires, click here.

Cascade County’s Air Quality Program monitors the air for carbon monoxide and particulate matter and also conducts emission inspections at different businesses throughout the County. Fortunately, our relatively rural setting and frequent breezy days help to keep our air clean. On days that seem particularly smoky or hazy, you can check the air quality before you go out by visiting www.todaysair.mt.gov.

For more local information, help and resources, visit CCHD Environmental Health Division’s Air Quality site or call 454-6950 and ask to speak with an Environmental Health Sanitarian.