West Yellowstone deals with poor air quality


BOZEMAN, Mont. - Heading into West Yellowstone Thursday morning, drivers saw a thick haze blanket the hills and roads.

The smoke is partly coming from the Maple Fire, which has burned over 36,000 acres so far.

Yellowstone National Park visitors watched as flames consumed a portion of a tree line a few miles from the West Entrance to the park.

"I think it's very interesting. I think it's interesting how it kind of went around the little patch of trees with a little tinting of black and green," said Oliver Miles, a tourist.

Visitors can view the Maple Fire from a safe distance in designated areas between the West Entrance and Madison Junction.

Firefighters have used different aircraft including at least one Chinook helicopter. Ground crews use burnout operations to help contain the fire.

In West Yellowstone, which is about 4 miles away from the Maple Fire, the air was filled with smoke in the morning. The haze spread over the football field at the town's K-12 school.

Kids already had recess inside a couple of times this week. For athletes bad air means either cancelling practice or having it inside. The haze does not stay in the air all day.

"We see this afternoon with winds mixing higher up, we do get a little bit of clearing. It does get hazy in the evenings, and then in the mornings it's still quite hazy," said Glenda Scott, a Maple Fire information specialist.

The air quality in West Yellowstone reached up to the "unhealthy" category at one point on Thursday. The smoke did not stop many people from shopping, but they definitely noticed the effect.

"It's really hazy. It's kind of surprising driving in here, and you can't even see all of the mountains because of all the smoke," said Katie Hawkins, a tourist. "So it just creates a totally different atmosphere than this area would usually have."

For now, it is the flames that will decide how residents and tourists go about their day.

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