September 27, 2012
Where there’s fire, there’s smoke, smoke and more smoke
By B.L. Azure
RONAN — Three relatively small lightning-caused wildfires in high rugged mountain terrain remain active on the Flathead Indian Reservation, according the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Division of Fire information and fire prevention officer. However, Curt Matt said Tuesday they are minor contributors to the smoky haze that is socked in over the Flathead Indian Reservation.
The Schley Wildfire on the rocky mountain slops in the Schley area northeast of Evaro has consumed 88 acres. “The threat of it spreading is real low,” Matt said. “It will torch out once the dead fuels on the ground burn out.”
The White Horse Lake Wildfire in the South Fork Jocko Tribal Primitive Area remains active and has consumed 611 acres. “It is pretty active near the (South Fork Jocko) river,” Matt said. “On Monday it burned pretty close to the Jocko lookout and road. In expectation of that we did some prep work last week in the area to keep it fenced in. It helped and it looked pretty good this morning.”
The Floyd Lake Road and the road to the Jocko lookout remain closed.
The Mollman Wildfire west of Ronan has consumed 210 acres. “It has pretty much run its course and burned out of fuel,” Matt said. “With some cooperative weather we could put this one to bed.”
Matt said DOF personnel are continuing to monitor the fires from the air and on the ground.
The smoke from wildfires in Idaho and stagnant airflows are the major causes of bad and unhealthy air conditions in much of western Montana, including the reservation and especially in the Bitterroot Valley. Such heavy inundation of smoke in the air has not been seen in the area since the forest fires of 2000.
Matt said the smoke is unhealthy to all people especially children, elderly adults and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma. They should avoid prolonged exertion; and, everyone else, especially children, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.
The valleys of western Montana are natural collectors of stagnant air due to the high mountains that serve as walls restricting wind flows and the high atmospheric pressure that serves as a plug that keeps a lid on the smoky valleys. The resulting restricted air exchange results in the poor air quality that is engulfing much of western Montana.
“We’re getting a lot of smoke but not a lot of it is coming from the reservation fires,” Matt said. “We’re actually getting the bulk of the smoke blowing up from the Bitterroot Valley. And that area is getting smoke from fires there and to the west in Idaho. The air quality is not too good here but it is even worse in the Bitterroot.”
A change in weather patterns is the key to putting the boot on the stagnant air exchange. However, Matt said the immediate forecast does not foresee a huge change in the weather. “This current weather pattern is predicted to hang in through the weekend,” Matt said Tuesday. “There are predictions for some rain but if it happens it will just be a spit in a big bucket.”
Until the high-pressure system breaks down, and the jet stream slides south, air from the Western wildfires will settle in the valleys thus continuing unhealthy air.
The air quality indices in western Montana from the Bitterroot Valley through the Missoula Valley and the Jocko, Mission and Lower Flathead valleys ranges from hazardous to very unhealthy to unhealthy from south to north.
Contributors to the smoke that has anchored in the valleys and sky of western Montana include the Condon Mountain Fire in the Flathead National Forest northeast of the reservation. The lightning caused fire started July 27, four miles northeast of Condon. It has consumed nearly 4,500 acres and remains active and is 40 percent contained. Almost 200 people are manning the wildfire. The Wall Creek Wildfire also in the Flathead National Forest has consumed more than 2,000 acres and remains active.
The lions’ share of the smoke emanates from wildfires in Idaho. To the west is the Mustang Complex wildfire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest in Idaho. So far it has consumed 336,082 acres and remains active with 22 percent containment. The Powell Wildfire in the Sel-Bitterroot, Idaho area has consumed 51,000 acres and remains active. The Porcupine Wildfire east of Elk City, Idaho has consumed 30,000 acres and remains active and is uncontained.
To the south is the Sawtooth Fire in the Bitterroot National Forest in the time immemorial aboriginal homeland of the Bitterroot Salish people is another big contributor to the unhealthy air quality. It remains active and has consumed nearly 6,000 acres and is 45 percent contained. Forty-seven people are manning the wildfire
The West Fork Wilderness Fires in the Bitterroot National Forest has consumed 20,000 acres and remains active. The Wedge Creek Fire in the Lolo National Forest remains active and has consumed more than 1,500 acres.
For updated air-quality conditions visit Montana air quality online at www.airqualitymt.gov
For wildfire updates visit: www.inciweb.org
For wildfire information or to report a wildfire on the Flathead Indian Reservation, call the CSKT Division of Fire at 656-2550.