Smoke from the Lolo Creek Complex Fire has been drifting into the Missoula Valley since the two separate fires, the Schoolhouse and West Fork II, started over the weekend.

Missoula City-County Health Department Air Quality Specialist Ben Schmidt said inversions have been bringing the smoke down to the valley floor for several hours before temperatures warm and winds move the smoke higher.

"Air quality has been improving since about 4 a.m. We're at moderate levels right now," Schmidt said on Tuesday afternoon. "However, as temperatures and wind speeds pick up, we could see another surge of smoke real easily. It's going to be highly variable, and people are going to have to watch the smoke for themselves. And, of course, Lolo is going to be a lot worse most of the time."

Schmidt said the longer the smoke remains in the valley, the more its effects will be felt.

"It's like anything else," Schmidt said. "The longer your exposure is, you're definitely going to feel impacts from it. Hopefully, this won't last into October like last year's fire season, and I'm hoping for rain, but if it doesn't come, then people who are not being affected now could begin feeling the effects of the smoke. People may develop headaches, or become more prone to colds or something of that nature."

Schmidt said the health department's air quality website is normally updated twice a day, but that may change as conditions worsen.

"We update the page at least twice a day when the smoke is bad, but because this fire is so close, we try to do it more," Schmidt said. "But, people should be aware that conditions can change so fast that sometimes we can get behind the curve. That's why we're encouraging people to use visibility as a guide. Also, because of the closeness of the fire, there will be times when Lolo will have totally different air quality than Missoula does. And, Frenchtown, because they're a little upwind from the fires, they're almost always going to have good air quality where we may be totally smoked in."

Wednesday afternoon's update states that Lolo air quality is hazardous, and unhealthy for sensitive groups in the south and east sides of the Missoula Valley. Air quality in the west Missoula Valley, Frenchtown and Seeley Lake is generally good to moderate.

Air Quality Specialist Ben Schmidt