Residents of western Montana and northern Idaho can expect to see some relief from the drought and wildfire smoke that have plagued the area for many weeks.
Following a Red Flag Warning that is in effect Wednesday for southwest Montana, precipitation is in the forecast for Thursday night and Friday. The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch for parts of western Montana.
The storm system will move into the northern Rockies on Thursday and Friday bringing rain and snow to the region. Some of the higher elevations could receive one to six inches of snow while the lower elevations can expect rain. The Lolo Peak Fire south of Missoula, for example, could get over one-half inch of rain.
Above: Satellite photo of smoke from fires in Western Montana and Northern Idaho, August 22, 2017. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite.
(Originally published at 3:03 p.m. MDT August 22, 2017)
It has been many days since we were able to find a satellite photo free of clouds enough to see smoke from the wildfires in Western Montana and Northern Idaho, but today there were few clouds in the area. This photo from Tuesday afternoon shows less heat (the red dots) than what we were seeing one to two weeks ago.
Above: 3-D map of the Lolo Peak Fire, looking west. The red line was the perimeter at 11 p.m. MDT August 19, 2017. The white line was the perimeter 23 hours earlier.
(Originally published at 8:40 a.m. MDT August 20, 2017.)
The Lolo Peak Fire grew by another 2,800 acres Saturday bringing the total up to 30,765 acres, but some of that increase was the result of burnout or firing operations conducted to tie in the fire edge with barriers or firelines.
In spite of a Red Flag Warning in effect Saturday afternoon firefighters had a pretty good day, conducting firing operations on the northwest, north, and east sides of the fire. Operations Section Chief Mark Goeller said the Highway 12 corridor is looking fairly secure and mopup has started in that area as well as some locations on the east side south of Lolo and west of Florence and Carlson. There is still a great deal of uncontrolled fire edge on the south side of the fire in the higher elevations.
The west wind predicted for Sunday should make a planned firing operation on the west side easier than it would be with winds from other directions.
In the video below Mr. Goeller gives an excellent briefing on Saturday’s activities and the plans for Sunday.
The Lolo Peak Fire eight miles southwest of Missoula, Montana roared across an additional 9,000 acres Friday to bring the total burned area to 27,900 acres. Officials closed Highway 12 and evacuated additional locations on the north side of the highway on Sleeman Creek Road and west of Stella Blue. Old Hwy 93 is closed from the intersection of Long Lane in Florence north through Missoula County.
There has been no report of the fire crossing Highway 12.
Strong winds pushed the fire farther to the north and the east from the Mill Creek area towards Travelers Rest. (See the map below.)
The Lolo Peak fire is being managed as a full suppression fire, but Greg Poncin’s Northern Rockies National Incident Management Team has been describing it as a “long duration wildfire with the potential to reach the corridors of Highway 12 and Highway 93”. Ten structures have burned in the fire.
Above: Wildfires in Western Montana, July 25, 2017.
(Originally published at 10:30 a.m. MDT July 25, 2017)
Residents of Missoula, Montana are used to the impacts wildfire season brings to the area. Occasionally the area is inundated with smoke for days or weeks at a time. Today at least a dozen large wildfires are burning within 70 miles of Missoula. Most of them are south or east of the city so the northwest wind predicted today will blow much of the smoke from the fires away from town.
The national Incident Management Situation Report groups fires by Geographic Area and lists those Areas by priority, and within each Area the fires are listed by priority. The Northern Rockies Geographic Area, identified as the highest priority today, is comprised of Northern Idaho, all of Montana, most of North Dakota, and relatively small portions of Wyoming and South Dakota.
Today’s report lists 21 large fires in the Northern Rockies with 18 of them being in Montana. The first 10 priorities are in Montana and 8 of them are in the western part of the state.
The two that are in the eastern part are the top two priorities in the Area:
Lodgepole Complex of Fires: 250,000 acres, 16 homes have been destroyed. Firefighters are making good progress. Over the last 48 hours the only large growth has been on the northern end near Lake Fort Peck. More information.
Buffalo Fire: This is a new fire reported July 24. At last report it had burned 2,000 acres and is near the Wyoming/Montana state line. An Incident Management Team from Alaska that was staged in the state has been assigned.
Below is some information about a couple of fires closer to Missoula:
Lolo Peak Fire; 1,090 acres 17 miles southwest of Missoula and 10 miles southwest of Lolo. It was active Monday and Monday night on the north, west, and south sides, spotting across a drainage and advancing to Lantern Ridge.
Sapphire Complex comprised of Sliderock, Little Hogback, and Goat Creek fires: 20 to 31 miles southeast of Missoula. All three fires were active Monday, primarily on the east and southeast sides. Combined they have burned 4,539 acres.
An executive order signed by the Governor of Montana Sunday will enable the state to mobilize National Guard helicopters (Blackhawks and CH47), some firefighters, and kitchens. It also makes it possible for local governments to access the Governor’s emergency fund if they have enacted their own 2 mil levy.