Bozeman school officials are monitoring air quality reports and are ready to bring students indoors if smoke from forest fires becomes so thick it is deemed unhealthy, said Superintendent Rob Watson.

A state air monitoring station sits atop Bozeman High School, and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality posts hourly updates on a color-coded chart, Today’s Air. It is linked on the Gallatin City-County Health Department website.

On Wednesday, the first day of school, Watson said his office emailed principals about 2 p.m. and urged them not to let children outside for recess, when air quality reached the level of “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

“We wouldn’t cancel a (team) practice – we’d move it inside,” Watson said. “It’s the same with health enhancement classes.”

At the level “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” visibility is reduced to 5.1 to 8.7 miles, according to the Health Department.

The Health Department lists local landmarks that can be used informally to check visibility in Bozeman, Belgrade, Three Forks, Manhattan, West Yellowstone, Sedan and Maudlow.

From the Gallatin Country Courthouse on Main Street, the view to the “M” on the Bridgers is about four miles. The view from the Courthouse to the top of the Bridgers is about five miles. So if people at Bozeman High can’t see the “M” or the top of the Bridgers, the smoke is in the “unhealthy” range.

“During ‘very unhealthy’ air quality periods, the Health Department recommends that persons most at risk for respiratory complications … avoid outdoor activities,” its website states. “Individuals at risk include children, the elderly and persons with known respiratory problems. Everyone else should avoid prolonged exertion.”

The department advises residents to err on the side of caution.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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