Unhealthy air looms over first day of school in Florence
MISSOULA, Mont. - The Ravalli County sheriff lifted evacuation orders on the Lolo Peak Fire Tuesday morning, allowing families in Florence to return home under a fire warning just in time for the first day of school.
However students at Florence-Carlton Public Schools have another concern. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality rates the air quality in the area as unhealthy.
"It felt like I was suffocating, and it was just smoke all around. It was hard to see when I was driving this morning," said Cody Fyfe, who is a student at Florence-Carlton High School.
Another student, Hunter Ring, agreed. He said it was a little different coming back to school and not being able to breathe outside, but he said he's handling it fine. "The first day of school with all the smoke, it's going all right."
Superintendent Bud Scully explained to NBC Montana some precautions they are taking. He said they canceled Tuesday night's football game and are also bringing the elementary kids indoors for recess and lunch anytime when it's unhealthy or worse.
Scully said when air quality improves to unhealthy for sensitive groups they bring those kids into a designated classroom or the library.
The library at the school is a designated safe air zone thanks to the American Lung Association and Blue Cross Blue Shield. They donated HEPA filters for the school to borrow. The shipment of 10 units arrived Tuesday, the first day of school. They'll be placed in the library and a number of other individual rooms. When the need is over Blue Cross Blue Shield will take them and store them, then take them to whichever school may need them in the future.
HEPA filters aren't the only precaution. Scully told NBC Montana an individual is making a donation to put air scrubbers on the main system in the school, and Anderson Plumbing is working to install them.
If the threat of wildfire returns and students are evacuated Scully explained students can get on the school bus at any pickup location.
"Their parents can drop them off, but yeah we're flexible. If they miss school, it's an understanding, it's a stressful situation for the kids and the parents. If they come late, it's all good," Scully said.
Scully said if the wildfire goes so far as to threaten the school and force evacuations there they have a plan for that too. He said they would load all the students on the buses and take them to an off-site location. At this point they would notify parents to pick them up. That's why Scully wants parents to make sure they have a current phone number on file at the school.
As the school week gets started students are hoping for a change in air quality.
"Most of the summer was ruined for us because we either had to evacuate or hide from the smoke. So here's hoping that it gets clearer outside and a little bit better air quality," said Fyfe.