Fire activity brings unhealthy air conditions

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    Smoke blanketed Flathead Lake, which can normally be seen from the top of Skyline Drive in Polson. (Ashley Fox/Lake County Leader)

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    Air quality was low in the area as smoke from surrounding wildfires settled in the Mission Valley earlier this week. (Ashley Fox/Lake County Leader)

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    Smoke blanketed Flathead Lake, which can normally be seen from the top of Skyline Drive in Polson. (Ashley Fox/Lake County Leader)

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    Air quality was low in the area as smoke from surrounding wildfires settled in the Mission Valley earlier this week. (Ashley Fox/Lake County Leader)

Increased fire activity in northwest Montana, coupled with unfavorable weather conditions, have left the Mission Valley and much of the region with terrible air quality over the past few days. With weather conditions not expected to improve, the smokey conditions could stay around for some time.

According to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), air quality reached hazardous levels in Florence, Seeley Lake, Superior, Thompson Falls, and Trout Creek Tuesday. Air quality was very unhealthy in Arlee and Florence and unhealthy in Clearwater, Eureka, Hamilton, Libby, Lincoln, Lolo, Missoula, Rainy Lake, and Stevensville. Air quality was unhealthy for sensitive groups in Columbia Falls.

The cause of the poor air quality in western Montana continues to be a ridge of high pressure to our west and through to the east. Easterly surface winds are trapping smoke from area fires in western Montana. The smoke has few places to go, so it is sitting over western Montana. The area is also seeing smoke from the Pacific Northwest travel up along the ridge of high pressure and come back down through western Montana along northwest winds aloft.

More of the same is expected over the next few days, with significant air quality impacts ranging from unhealthy to hazardous expected in western Montana. If there is some improvement in the afternoons, it will be brief, with strong inversions expected at night and significant pooling of smoke expected in the valleys in the mornings.

The ridge will slowly move to the east throughout the week. This will cause strong overnight inversions and significant air quality impacts in western Montana each morning.

A Stage II fire restriction is still in effect on the Flathead Reservation, according to officials from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Division of Fire.

In a press release, the DOF stated that the Blue Bay Fire, located across from the Blue Bay Campgrounds on Highway 35, has remained at 490 acres with 80 percent containment. That blaze was started by lightning on Aug. 10.

Southeast of Arlee, the Liberty Fire is burning at about 21,400 acres and is 17 percent contained while the Rice Ridge fire is 108,126 acres and is 2 percent contained.

The South Fork Primitive area is currently closed.

Crews conducted burnouts along the Finley Creek and Placid Creek roads last Tuesday.

Three miles north of Blake Lake the Black Fire is burning, and as of Tuesday it was measured at 580 acres with zero containment.

On Monday, aviation was grounded due to poor visibility caused by smoke in the area.

The DOF is asking the public to stay out of the North Fork trailhead area that includes Lost Sheep, Gray Wolf and Buck Lake due to fire danger.

Near Ravalli, the Upper Midway Fire is contained but not yet controlled, the press release confirmed. It began last week and was at 620 acres Tuesday. Firefighters will continue to monitor the fire, extinguishing hot spots and watch for flare ups and spot fires.

The 62-acre Cottonwood Fire began Sept. 2 on private property in the Camas area, and it is contained but crews will monitor the fire until it is deemed controlled.

Other fires

Information according to inciweb.nwcg.gov

Rice Ridge Fire

Caused by lightning on July 24

Located north and east of Seeley Lake

787 personnel

108,126 acres

2 percent contained

The Rice Ridge Fire ballooned over the weekend, prompting new evacuation orders and warnings in Powell County.

The order is for all of Cooper’s Lake while the warning is for everything north of Highway 200 with the west and east boundaries of Missoula and Lewis & Clark counties.

Sunrise Fire

Caused by lightning on July 16

Located 11 miles southeast of Superior

27 personnel

26,155 acres

90 percent contained

Highway 200 Complex

Caused by lightning Aug. 28

Located near Plains and Thompson Falls

Includes:

Sheep Gap Fire at 8,978 acres and the Deep Creek Fire at 4,089 acres.

The Cub Creek Fire was estimated at 2,687 acres while the Miller Peak fire was at 456 acres.

The Reader Fire was burning at 156 acres and the Moose Peak fire was at 4,993 acres.

More than 500 structures were threatened as of Tuesday, including 100 that were evacuated and another 310 in pre-evacuation warnings.

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