Montana Wildfire Smoke Information

Smoky East Ridge

Wildfire Smoke - How to Prepare

With climate change, Montana's summers are becoming hotter and drier. This increases the risk for wildfires - and lengthens the wildfire season - both within the state and throughout the western United States.  Smoke can effect us from nearby fires, from surrounding states, and as far as California or Canada.

Early planning for clean indoor air, learning about health risks, and sharing this information with your friends and family can help us all stay safe and healthy.

Understanding the Health Risks

Wildfire smoke is our most significant source of air pollution in western Montana and it is nasty business. The tiny particles in smoke can burrow deep into your lungs and pass into your bloodstream where they set off an inflammatory response. They impact your heart, lungs and immune system. Even if you are not in a high-risk category (children, older adults, people with heart and lung disease, and pregnant people), the smoke is bad for you. It’s bad for everyone, and the longer you’re in it, the worse it gets. These pollutants can even exacerbate other health risks including viruses like COVID-19. 

Know How to Check Air Quality

Staying up to date on the smoke levels in your area is vital. Using accurate, regularly updated air quality maps and forecasts will let you determine when the best times are for outdoor activities or when to stay inside. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality provides easy access to air quality reports from a number of monitoring stations:

TodaysAir_basemap reshaded roads Opens in new windowMontana DEQ's Today's Air

Visibility Guidelines

Can't see 5 miles? Unhealthy Air
Can't see 2 miles? Very Unhealthy Air
Can't see 1 mile? Hazardous Air

How to estimate air quality based on visibility:

  • Use pre-determined landmarks that were established on a clear day for distances.
  • Face away from the sun.
  • Determine the limit of your visible range by looking for targets at known distances (miles).

Make a Plan to Create Clean Indoor Air

There are numerous ways to reduce your health risks during periods of unhealthy air quality. We recommend visiting the Montana Wildfire Smoke - Clean Indoor Air site for more assistance.

Reduce Time Spent Outdoors

During wildfire season, it is easy to feel trapped when we are told to reduce our time outdoors. For those whose jobs take place primarily outside, particulate respirators and protective masks can provide a measure of protection. Otherwise, try to schedule around known peak wildfire season (August/September).

Check On Your Friends and Neighbors

When the weather and air quality is hot and smoky, it is time to check in on your friends and neighbors. A few minutes of your time can save a life.


AirNow provides current and forecasted air quality information, and the data on the new AirNow Fire and Smoke Map are intended to help individuals make decisions to protect their health during fires. Go to for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions

This is a list of FAQs to provide information on Air Quality and how to protect yourself from wildfire smoke.