As massive wildfires continue to rage in California, Oregon and Washington, the jet stream is now picking up the smoke and sending it across large portions of the United States and Montana. According to the New York Times, the fires have burned over 1 million acres in Oregon, 3.1 million acres in California and over 600,000 in Washington state. USA Today reports that the smoke from those fires has now reached the east coast.

Many blame climate change for the historic fires, while others say the fires are a prime example of poor forest management policies. Regardless, the smoke is filling our skies in Montana and will likely continue to do so for the next few days until the weather pattern changes.

How harmful is the smoke for your body? The CDC says that wildfire smoke, a mix of gases and fine particles from burning vegetation, can harm you in multiple ways and even make you sick. Some of the immediate effects of inhaling too much smoke may include:

  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing normally
  • Stinging eyes
  • A scratchy throat
  • Runny nose
  • Irritated sinuses
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • An asthma attack
  • Tiredness
  • Fast heartbeat

If you're wondering how bad the smoke is in our area, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality has a real-time chart that monitors air pollutants and particle part-per-million in cities across the state, including the monitor in Lockwood. They grade the air quality on a six-level scale from "Good" to "Hazardous." Here's a screen shot from the air quality in Billings, taken at noon today (9/15).

Photo courtesy Montana DEQ

Today we're in the "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" level. At this level, the DEQ recommends,

Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Is the smoke bothering you much? I find myself waking up in the morning lately "all jammed up" (like after sitting by a campfire all night) and I've been sneezing more than normal.

Side note #1: What is the proper etiquette when it comes to sneezing and face masks? Do you sneeze in the mask? Gross. Do you take it off, sneeze in your arm, then put it back on? If so, doesn't that defeat the purpose of the mask?

Side Note #2: The CDC says that paper masks (and likely your cloth mask) are not effective filters for wildfire smoke. They add that a properly fitted N95 mask may provide some smoke protection.

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