Missoula City-County Health Department

As dense smoke from regional wildfires spread through communities across western Montana last summer, public health agencies faced an indoor problem, too: Residents suddenly needed filters to clean the air inside homes and public spaces, but there was no obvious funding source to pay for it.

Ellen Leahy, the health officer in charge of the Missoula City-County Health Department, says in the past, when wildfire smoke polluted the air outside, nobody really talked about air filters.

Amy Cilimburg, the director of Climate Smart Missoula, helped Seeley Lake residents Joy and Don Dunagan get a HEPA air filter through a partnership with the Missoula City-County Health Department.
Nora Saks

This past wildfire season, unprecedented amounts of wildfire smoke in communities across western Montana threw public health agencies a curveball.

Yesterday, we dove into what we know and are still learning about the long term health impacts of exposure to wildfire smoke. Today, we’re looking at what it would take to provide filtered air to the most vulnerable Montanans.

Widlfire smoke fills the sky in Seeley Lake August  7, 2017.
Eric Whitney

This summer, Missoula County had its worst wildfire smoke season on record. It’s unclear how exactly that impacted the health of county residents, both as the fires were burning and longer term, but researchers are starting to pull in some data.

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Smokey skies in Seeley Lake, August 10, 2017.
Eric Whitney

Seeley Lake-area kids will at least have a buffer from the dangerous local wildfire smoke when school resumes. The Missoula County Health Department and school officials are teaming up to place highly efficient HEPA air filters throughout local schools.