Smoke From Wildfires Affecting High School Sports Schedules In Montana

September 18, 2012 / Golf
The Montana Standard, George Plaven—weeks-of-smoky-skies-taking/article_881d3426-0161-11e2-b58d-001a4bcf887a.html

Persistent smoke over southwest Montana is affecting high school sports across the area as coaches and athletic directors look to protect the health of students.

Both Butte Central and Anaconda agreed to host frosh football games Monday originally scheduled in Dillon and Hamilton, respectively, due to poor air quality.

Smoke continues to drift in from large wildfires across the border in Idaho, as well as the 4,900-acre Sawtooth Fire about seven miles southwest of Hamilton. The air quality in Butte Monday afternoon registered at 26 micrograms of particulate per cubic meter, or good to moderate quality.

By comparison, levels in Hamilton averaged 83 micrograms per cubic meter over the previous 24 hours, or unhealthy quality.

Butte Central also had a golf tournament cancelled Saturday in Hamilton, while Butte High cancelled a home junior varsity football game against Billings West and varsity soccer against Billings Senior. The soccer games will be rescheduled.

Maroons activities director Chad Petersen said they are in touch regularly with the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department whenever in question about air quality.

“Health professionals recommend against any prolonged activity outdoors when there are smoky conditions,” Petersen said. “We watch over kids with any asthmatic or heart conditions very closely any time there is smoke outside. Obviously, we have to be more cautious with those individuals.”

Paul Riley, sanitarian with the health department, said the overall smoke in Butte is still considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, and especially for those with respiratory conditions.

Those people should limit their outdoor exertion, Riley said.

“When we experience an irritant, like smoke, it can affect the body’s ability to get oxygen through its system,” he said. “The smaller the particulate and the greater the concentration, the more you take in with every breath. It just limits the efficiency of your system.”

Even for healthy, young athletes, the smoke can get in their eyes and make them short of breath, Riley added.

Butte High athletic director Chuck Merrifield said they will continue to keep a close monitor on air quality, take their visual cues and be safe.

The smoke, unfortunately, will hang around until there is measurable precipitation, according to Leona Rodreick with the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. No relief is expected this week, with the National Weather Service in Missoula predicting dry conditions through at least Sunday.

After Monday, it becomes unclear if the high pressure system will break down.

“I know people have been really miserable,” Rodreick said.

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