Warnings about fire on the hills, and candles in the home 

That season has rounded itself upon us again, when we look at the hills around our city and cringe. When will it happen? Where will it happen? Will Sentinel be consumed in flames again, like it was last summer? Will smokejumpers and slurry planes be called upon to roar overhead, dousing out what some careless passer-by started with a still-glowing match, a magnifying glass, a cigarette?

Hopefully, we’ll never get any answers to these questions. Because, as it does often during the summer months, the City of Missoula has shut down some of our most tender, tinderbox-type areas, to keep us from burning down the mountains.

A little after midnight this past Wednesday, the city officially closed all of Mount Jumbo, the North Hills, the city-owned sections of Mount Sentinel, and the Kim Williams Trail, due to fire danger levels it describes as “very high.” At about the same time, the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation shut down the land it owns on Sentinel, making pretty much all of the land you see around you from downtown off-limits. And, as the city has impressed upon us to impress upon you, this applies to everybody for every reason. Which means, no walking the dog on Kim Williams. No squiring around in-laws and out-of-town visitors on Sentinel to show them the view. No hoofing it to the M. No vandalizing the L (at least for now). And no bizarre, semi-naked, midsummer rituals in the North Hills, even if you’re praying for rain.

We’ll tell you when it’s safe to go back up. In the meantime, thanks.

So, do you light a candle or curse the candlemaker? You’ve undoubtedly noticed, as we have, how some Missoulians speak with a heartfelt pride about the Garden City’s place as Montana’s merchandise hub for all things hippie, free-range and counter-cultural: Birkenstocks, knitted Rastafarian dreadcaps, organic collared greens, Jerry Garcia window transparences—and candles. Which is why we thought it prudent to pass along the recent findings of a report issued by the Journal of American Medical Association, which studied the risks of lead exposure from metallic wick candles.

Although the candle industry in 1974 agreed to voluntarily stop using lead-containing wicks, some household candles still contain lead as a wick stiffener. As you’re probably aware, lead exposure has been linked to certain behavioral and developmental problems, including some forms of brain damage. The study, which looked at both the prevalence of lead and the room atmospheric effects of burning lead wicks, found that while only 3 percent of the 285 candles purchased from 12 stores contained lead wicks, burning those candles can raise the lead concentrations in the air from 10 to 36 times the levels considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Lead-containing candles are of particular risk to young children, whose blood lead concentrations can exceed the daily recommended limit within 45 minutes. In short, families exposed to metal-containing wicks might consider getting their blood lead levels checked.

So, the next time you happen upon a circle of youths sitting around a candle acting goofy and fuzzy-headed, the damage to their brain cells may not be coming from the source you initially suspected.

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