Air quality alerts issued across state

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Residents in every Montana county were dealing with air quality impacts due to wildfire smoke on Sunday, and according to health officials there’s no relief in sight.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality reported that large amounts of smoke pushed into the region Sunday following a cold front from the north. That smoke combined with wildfire smoke from western Montana fires to create widespread unhealthy conditions.

Air quality was listed as “unhealthy” for Libby, Flathead Valley, Frenchtown, Missoula, Seeley Lake, Great Falls, Helena, Butte, Bozeman, Lewistown, Billings, Broadus and Birney.

Visibility in Kalispell was less than 2 miles Sunday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Missoula.

When air quality is rated at unhealthy, health officials suggest that people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children should avoid prolonged exertion, while everyone else should limit prolonged exertion.

Widespread impacts were expected to continue, “as there doesn’t appear to be signs of significant relief in the very near future,” the Montana Department of Environmental Quality reported.

For hourly air quality levels visit www.todaysair.mt.gov.

Fire crews on Saturday responded to a small wildfire burning on the back side of Big Mountain.

The Big Creek Fire was reported to be 1.1 acres Saturday afternoon. It was burning through brush and timber on Forest Service land northwest of the Big Mountain summit, about 1.5 miles from the base of Chair 7 at Whitefish Mountain Resort. The fire was caused by lightning.

The Coal Ridge Fire about 10 miles west of Polebridge continued to smolder on Sunday. It was at 280 acres and was 2 percent contained. Firefighters were working to create fuel breaks between the fire and the North Fork Road and Polebridge.

Farther north, the uncontained Whale Butte Fire was at 251 acres.

No evacuation warnings were issued as of Sunday for the Coal Ridge or Whale Butte fires. The Paola Ridge Fire near Essex along U.S. 2 was estimated at 400 acres Sunday. An evacuation warning remained in place for a small number of residents near Essex.

Flathead National Forest, except the Great Bear and the Bob Marshall Wilderness areas, have implemented Stage 2 fire restrictions. No campfires are permitted.

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