Oregon Public Broadcasting

Fine particles of soot and smoke from the 20 large wildfires burning east of the Cascades are making the air unhealthy in towns like Prineville, Oregon and Colville, Washington. But the smoke has also traveled farther.

Montana's Department of Environmental Quality said Saturday the air in much of the state was unhealthy to breathe due to particulate pollution. In places in Western Montana including Missoula and Frenchtown, particulate pollution reached very unhealthy levels.

Dan Zumpfe, a Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Missoula, said visibility there was less than 2 miles, and he couldn't see the mountains surrounding the town.

"It's very difficult to sleep soundly and wake up refreshed, because your nose and lungs are getting bothered by the fine particulates in the air. And I think it has a psychological affect on people," he said.

Zumpfe said winds in the upper atmosphere carried smoke east from the Carlton Complex and Mill Caynyon fires in Washington and the Buzzard Complex fire in Oregon. Then, a stable air mass caused the smoke to sink, trapping it in the valleys in Montana and Idaho. Zumpfe said changes in the weather should cause the smoke to start to start to dissipate over the weekend, making it a little easier for people to breathe.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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