Heavy smoke continues to spread across northwest and north-central US

Heavy smoke is being tracked in 12 states.

wildfire smoke map

Above: Wildfire smoke map, 5:24 a.m. MDT September 4, 2017. The icons represent the locations of some of the large uncontained wildfires.

(Originally published at 10:50 a.m. MDT September 4, 2017)

The smoke from wildfires in Montana, Idaho, and the northwest United States is producing worsening conditions in the northwest and northcentral United States.

The locations that NOAA classified as having “heavy” smoke concentrations at 5:25 a.m. Monday included areas in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas.

According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, there are 58 large uncontrolled fires, but that does not count the 29 fires being managed under a less than full suppression strategy. NICC says to date 7.6 million acres have burned, compared to the 10-year average of 5.4 million acres.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills.

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53 thoughts on “Heavy smoke continues to spread across northwest and north-central US”

  1. Just a quick note about the heavy smoke depicted in the graphic. My office produces this and we are using satellites to identify and track the smoke. We do not assign a height to the smoke, so much of the smoke that is seen here – especially as you get further from the fires – is elevated and not at the surface. Just like a thick layer of clouds that is not at the ground. But some of the smoke that is aloft can get drawn down to the surface and at times you can smell it. Just wanted to clarify how to interpret the graphic.

    1. Thanks for the explanation. Most of the time this smoke is just like a cloud in the sky and every so often we can smell smoke as well. Now I understand.

    2. Woke up this morning in Salt Lake City, Utah to a valley of Smoky air. Blurring put the sunrise in haze…🔥🌬😷🙏

      1. The link to our main website is: http://www.ospo.noaa.gov/Products/land/hms.html

        The link to the latest smoke (as well as fire locations) in google earth format is in the upper right of the main web page. Or to get directly to it go to: http://www.ospo.noaa.gov/data/land/fire/smoke.kml

        We typically update the smoke twice per day. The 1st one should be available by late morning or early afternoon eastern time. The final update may not be available until after midnight eastern time since we need to wait until sunset in the West to get the best view of the smoke.

    3. I can tell you that I can smell the smoke at ground level in the eastern edge of the heavy area in the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

    4. Appreciate this info! We here in the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico haven’t had a clear sky for over a week. It is easier to comprehend when you say that the smoke is high in the upper atmosphere.

  2. Spokane WA smokevis heavy on the ground. Went back inside my home for “fresh” air. Can smell the smoke as soon as you walk out the door.

  3. SW Idaho: smoke/haze blanketing all of Emmett and likely all of Gem County. I occasionally smell the smoke, but that odor is intermittent. It seems unhealthy to be outdoors. Feels oppressive.

  4. I drove across much of Nebraska today. The smoke was indeed high off the ground, but the entire sky appeared a dusty gray, except for the area above us, which had a light blue tinge to it.

    1. I’m seeing the same in the same area – Is the smoke causing it all the way over here? Everyone on social media is talking about it so I had to get up and go look. And Google 🙂 It is beautiful, just hating the circumstances.

  5. My son-in-law was deployed on Friday from Fairbanks AK to the Rice Ridge fire in MT. The stunningly beautiful sunset today and red-orange moon over Milwaukee WI tonight are ominous reminders of how serious things are in the Northwest.

  6. I live in Salem, Oregon, but was at an out door event all weekend and the Willamette Valley is being choked by wildfire smoke. It’s like a medium to heavy fog, and with the 100 degree weather we have been getting, it’s soo miserable. Not good for those with reaspitory problems.

  7. I’m in Albuquerque NM we have been getting a lot of haze for the past few days it must be from the fires hopefully they can get them under control quickly our Country needs some relief for a while mother nature needs to relax

    1. I’m in Española, NM, just north of Santa Fe and the smoke here is really intense this morning. It’s been getting steadily worse since last Friday. Some folks with respiratory sensitivity are also being effected. Praying for the safety of all the firefighters and containment soon.

  8. In Ohio and getting lots of rain which is bringing the smoke closer to ground level and we can smell it and even have areas of smokiness. To the firefighters that are fighting the blazes, be safe.

  9. Does anyone know if washugal / camas and Vancouver / yacolt air ok to breath?? How come I can’t find anywhere in here where the closest fire is still burning ??

  10. In Spokane to Hunters Wa. Sooo sick of smoke , been breathing it for a couple months now. Went to Great Falls Mt. last weekend thought we could finally get a breath of fresh air. Well that backfired on us, not only was it smokey there, but was also detoured due to the fires around Lincoln trying to get back home. PLEASE PRAY FOR RAIN……..

  11. Very heavy smoke on the ground in Richland, WA, and the Tri-Cities area this morning. So thick it looks like fog, and the sun is just a pink ball in the sky. We need some rain, please!

  12. I live in BT MT, (Big Timber MT)
    and its terrible, a lot of kids are sick.and you can almost taste the smoke…….
    Pray for the fires. and Firefighters

  13. Ash fall on the car this morning, and the sun is a dingy orange. I was wondering what was going on, since the light this morning had a definite orangish cast to it. I was concerned that one of the volcanoes had erupted. We are in Bremerton, Washinton.

      1. The ash here in the Tacoma to Renton Washington area is bad. Vehicles are covered and the quality of air is doing harm to my allergies. Last night, I thought I was looking at snow falling. I immediately had to remember that there was no way possible for it to snow with the temperature at almost 80° Fahrenheit.

  14. Just returned to CT from Coos Bay, OR. Local residents of 40 years saying they had never seen anything like it … you could smell smoke from the moment you walked outside. Very hazy. High noon and you could look directly at the sun – the haze made it appear like the set of a Star Trek scene from another planet … spooky, orange, ball that looked almost like a full moon, albeit orange. Thanks and prayers for all firefighters, support crew, pilots and the like … and praying for that rain.

  15. Am now driving up i-5 from Mt Shasta ,CA passing Weed ,ca very thick fog like smoke like pea soup. Pray for peace, health, clarity and the safety of our firefighters. My friend sharing said it well: we must not be in fear. Relax. Hold the space of clear minds, sunny hearts and purifying rains. And lets spread that.

    1. I skirted past Crater Lake NP on Hwy 62 in Oregon last week. At its worst visibility was down to 150-200 yards. Felt sorry for anyone heading into the park — they won’t see anything. A lot of vacations ruined for people who still came, and unknown revenue lost for people dependent on tourist $ from the visitors who cancelled.

  16. I am in Treasure Valley, Idaho. The smoke is rated at “red” hazard level. The air leaves a residue or something around one’s nose that can’t be seen but felt. The high school kids held their football practice inside the gym today without any of their gear on. The game scheduled for this week will most likely be canceled.
    I have a couple of free standing air cleaners running in my home right now and they make a real difference.

  17. What is the air quality like in Frisco Colorado? What will The likelihood be of its dissipation by September 13 through September 20?

    1. Hurricanes are better for meeting the news coverage dictum “if it bleeds, it leads”. Hurricanes affect big cities where most of the viewers are; they can identify with the damage. The last time a wildfire did major damage to a city was the Oakland Hills Fire, which I fought against, in 1991.

  18. SW Idaho: the smoke blocks so much of the sun that one can stare directly at it and only see an orange orb in the sky. I have lived here for 45 years and have never seen anything like this of such continuous coverage–including when Mount St. Helens blew.

  19. I’m in SW Oregon, 40 miles from the Chetco Bar fire and 20 miles from the Miller complex. We haven’t seen the sky in more than two weeks, visibility is now 1/2 mile. Another round of thunderstorms drifted through yesterday, almost certainly lighting more fires, which raises the question: how do they search for new smoke when the entire region is already too smokey to see anything? Probably the answer is to locate by infrared sensors on aircraft, then home in on the ground by GPS — if they can spare the personnel.

    The ultimate problem is an across-the-board failure of modern forestry: fire suppression without equal emphasis on regular controlled burns, a harvest method (clearcutting) that creates contiguous large areas of extremely flammable young trees, and firefighting methods that violate one of Sun Tzu’s basic principles of war, economy of force. I see weeks, even months of hard effort, and millions spent, squandered on piecemeal suppression which is guaranteed to fail, sequentially. Better to hold back and prepare a battle of overwhelming force that can win decisively, like the preparations for D-Day in WWII.

    More thunder nearby this morning, here we go again!

    1. Tom, reproduction stands of young trees actually stop the fire better than old growth deaconate stands of dead and down; I actually saw this first hand I just came off the Staley Fire where 20 year young trees stands were slowing down a active fire, so your so called analogy is basically a bunch of BS.

  20. Here in southern New Mexico, Las Cruces, we have been experiencing haze and smoky skies for the last week or so. This has been attributed to fires in Montana and Idaho, as we have had no forest fires or brushfires in this area.

  21. Probably would have been quite helpful if the USFS decided to employ the Global Super Tanker wildfire-fighting 747-400 (approx. 20,000 gallon capacity) on some of these fires where it would have been appropriate. For the first time, this plane was only recently deployed in the United States for a California fire. The plane did terrifically in both Chile and Israel, yet the US has withheld permission to operate for years.

    Instead we get tens of millions of dollars in damage to both real property and timber, towns and local economies–not to mention the money spent for all those thousands of greatly-appreciated firefighters on the ground. The USFS apparently chooses to place men and women on the ground in danger rather than pay for a valuable air tanker–and hell, the plane only costs about $120,000 a day more or less. Would that likely not be money well spent where this plane is appropriate? Of course, ground firefighters are always necessary, but many could be spared danger and injury if the government got its collective head out of its arse.

    This is a huge plane, of course; and, its use is not always applicable on every fire. But, none before 2017 in the US? How much common sense does it take to see its value? Perhaps California is just more valuable to the government than the rest of us.

  22. No, your example of old growth forest burning is mismanaged forest where the “dead and down” has been foolishly allowed to accumulate through no prescribed burns. I could show you photo after photo of young 10 to 30 year old trees in former clearcuts where the fire has ripped through killing everything. The problem with even-aged management is the decades-long period where controlled burns are impossible because of the small size of of the trees with low branches and brush growth in between. It’s a matter of luck, not technological prowess, to get a stand of young trees through this period of vulnerability without a fire destroying the investment. I’m almost afraid to visit the site of the Shan Creek Fire near me from several weeks ago because I know the area well and know what I’ll find: thousands of dead baby trees. It took them four days to put it out even though they were on-scene minutes after the lightning strike, had easy road access, unlimited nearby water resources, and a heavy use of both fixed-wing and helicopter aerial suppression.

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