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Smoke From Canadian Fires Affecting Northeast Montana Air Quality

A screengrab shows a map of Montana overlaid with dots representing air quality monitoring results from stations across the state. All are green except one in Sidney, which is red for unhealthy air, and one near Seeley Lake reads moderate.
Montana Department of Environmental Quality
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality measured unhealthy levels of particulate matter in Sidney May 20, 2021 as smoke from wildfires in Manitoba, Canada, blew into the area.

Most of northeast Montana is under a blanket of smoke from Canadian wildfires. Air quality in Sidney was unhealthy for sensitive groups for part of the day Thursday, meaning active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

Residents hope the forecast of rain will help with drought conditions.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is reporting nearly a dozen wildfires burning out of control across Manitoba. And an unusual northeast wind is pushing smoke into northeast Montana, says meteorologist Cory Mottice with the National Weather Service in Glasgow.

“Pretty much all of northeast Montana right now is seeing quite a bit of smoke from it. It has lowered visibilities down to below 2 miles in some cases. And it’s a pretty strong smell up here,” Mottice says.

Mottice says the smell is noticeable even inside buildings.

A wetting rain dropped up to an inch over parts of the area Thursday morning.

Mottice says northeast Montana should see another one to two inches from other systems moving through the area through Sunday. The rain is much needed with that part of the state seeing extreme drought conditions.

Mottice said this rain will help some, “but we are about three inches below normal for most of the region so we’re going to be will be a little ways to go after this."

Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.