When smoke gets in your eyes, er, I mean lungs

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Pardon me while I cough!

Iím one of the many thousands of walking wounded this week as we breathe in smoke that has settled on the Flathead Valley from a ring of fire surrounding us in Northwest Montana.

Of course, itís hard to take too seriously the health issues caused by low air quality when there are firefighters and others putting their lives at risk trying to keep the rest of us safe. Meanwhile, in the south, hurricanes Harvey and Irma are reminding us just how good most of us have it in Montana.

But the fact of the matter is the gritty, grimy ash that turns the sun red is probably turning our lungs black, bit by bit, and it is certainly causing health issues for anyone with asthma or other lung conditions.

Iíve been coughing for five weeks, and probably started out with some kind of bronchitis when the fire season was just getting under way last month. After a week without improvement, I went to the doctor and got a prescription for an antibiotic. When that ran out after five days, I got a prescription for a second antibiotic that was supposed to be taken for 10 days. Didnít matter. Iím still coughing.

Now I donít know whether I have a viral infection or if my already weakened lungs are just aggravated by the incessant smoke, but either way Iím more than eager for a chance to breathe fresh air again.

Itís a shame that this major environmental disaster is happening in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and simultaneously with Hurricane Irma. Normally, the major national news outlets would all be dedicating time and resources to reporting on fires that have burned dozens of homes, destroyed historic Sperry Chalet, and threatened Lake McDonald Lodge, but this year we are living in a virtual news blackout as far as the rest of the country is concerned.

Hopefully, when the fires run their course (By the end of October? Fingers crossed!) Montana and the rest of the West will not be forgotten. The managers of our national forests and parklands need to be held accountable for policies that have allowed fire danger to reach this level. Environmental challenges to logging have left our forests woefully dangerous tinder boxes and put lives and national treasures at risk.

And if you happen to believe in global warming, then allowing the nation to turn healthy trees into a steady stream of CO2 and other pollutants that blacken our skies is just insane. Itís time to revisit how we prevent forest fires, how we fight them, and how we pay for them. My cough isnít the only thing that needs a remedy.

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