Rain and snow affect some fires in the Northwest — but not all

Wildfires are still active in California, Oregon, Washington, and northwest Montana. Red Flag Warning for northern Nevada.

Above: Indigo Fire in southwest Oregon, September 17, 2017. It is being managed by the East Zone of the Chetco Bar Fire. Inciweb.

(Originally published at 1 a.m. MDT September 18, 2017)

The precipitation that hit areas in the northern Rockies last week has slowed or in some cases temporarily halted, perhaps, the spread of some of the wildfires, many of which had been burning for more than a month. Higher elevations in portions of western Montana received snow, a significant amount in a few areas.

Most of Montana and eastern Idaho had over half an inch of precipitation, but extreme northwest Montana, northwest California, northern Idaho, and most of Oregon and Washington received very little.

Estimated precipitation received for the 7-day period ending Sunday Evening, September 17, 2017.

For example, some evacuations are still in effect for the West Fork Fire in northwest Montana north of Libby. But in the photo below firefighters on the Blacktail Fire northeast of Bozeman look like they are on a winter snow adventure.

Blacktail fire snow Montana
Firefighters on the Blacktail Fire, 48 miles northeast of Bozeman. Photo by Jade Martin.

Many of the wildfires in extreme northwest California and the Cascades of Oregon and Washington are still active. The satellite photo of that area is the most recent we could find that was at least partially free of clouds. On Friday smoke plumes were still very visible from hundreds of miles overhead.

satellite photo fires northwest united states
Satellite photo of the northwest United States, September 15, 2017. The red dots represent heat that the satellite was able to detect where the clouds were not too thick. NASA.

Continue reading “Rain and snow affect some fires in the Northwest — but not all”

Five pieces of equipment burned in Sheep Gap Fire

Five pieces of equipment burned Tuesday September 12 in the Sheep Gap Fire near Thompson Falls, Montana. Irv Leach, the Incident Commander whose Incident Management Team had just arrived at the fire, said two Temco feller bunchers, one dozer, a skidder and a pickup truck burned when firefighters and operators were forced to abandon the area as the fire spread toward their location.

Mr. Leach said in a news release:

As the afternoon progressed, the temperature and wind began to increase; relative humidity began to decrease and the fire became very active. Because of the very low fuel moistures and poor humidity recovery from the night before, the fire became active and burned very rapidly. This fire condition and rates of spread made it unsafe for firefighters and equipment operators to remain. A safety decision was made to abandon the operation and retreat to established safety zones.

Thankfully there were no injuries, but the equipment did not fare as well, as you can see in the photos below.

Since the Sheep Gap Fire started August 28, it has burned over 20,000 acres.

Rain slows wildfires in Northern Rockies and South Dakota

Above: Precipitation received at RAWS weather stations in northwest Montana in the 24 hours before 9:42 a.m. September 15, 2017. The amounts range from a few hundredths to almost half an inch.

Western Montana and the northern Great Plains are receiving some much needed moisture that will slow the spread of dozens of large fires in the area, some of which have been burning for more than a month and a half.

The Rice Ridge Fire has spread over 155,000 acres just east of Seeley Lake 35 miles northeast of Missoula, Montana since it was discovered July 24. The incident management team reported Thursday evening that the east side of the fire had received a quarter of an inch of rain. A weather station just northeast of the community of Seeley Lake recorded 0.05″ overnight, and the forecast calls for another quarter of an inch at that location on Friday.

A weather station near the 53,000-acre Lolo Peak Fire south of Missoula recorded 0.16″.

weather cam nine mile
A weather cam view at Nine Mile on Interstate 90 west of Missoula, 8:30 a.m. September 15, 2017.

Some of the higher elevations in western Montana are receiving snow.

weather cam homestake pass
A weather cam view at Homestake Pass, 6,329′ elevation, on Interstate 90 southeast of Butte, MT, 9:08 a.m. September 15, 2017.

Firefighters are “backhauling” equipment on the Rice Ridge Fire, collecting items that are no longer needed and taking them back to the incident base, such as fire hose, water pumps, and portable tanks.

Most of the weather stations in the southern Black Hills where the Beaver and Rankin Fires are burning have received about a third of an inch of rain as of 10 a.m. on Friday, but one station northeast of Newcastle, WY measured almost three-quarters of an inch. Some firefighting resources, including crews and engines, were released from these two fires late in the day Thursday.

Red Flag Warning in western Montana to be followed by rain and snow

Red Flag Warning September 13, 2017
Red Flag Warning September 13, 2017.

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.

Winter Storm Watch western Montana
A Winter Storm Watch for western Montana ends at 12 p.m. Friday, September 15.

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.

weather forecast Thursday and Friday
Forecast by Accuweather for Thursday and Friday.

Wildfires persist in the Cascades and Northern Rockies

Today there are 71 large uncontained wildfires in the United States.

Above: the red and orange dots on the map represent heat on wildfires detected by a satellite in the 24 hours before 7:30 a.m. MDT September 11, 2017. Heat found before that is not shown.

(Originally published at 7:45 a.m. MDT September 11, 2017)

In spite of the hurricanes impacting the southeast United States, the wildfires in the Cascade Range and the Northern Rockies persevere in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Northern California.

Off and on over the last week they have slowed as clouds and even some scattered very light showers passed over the areas, but the National Interagency Fire Center reported today there are 71 active large fires, 32 that are being suppressed and 39 that are being suppressed only where needed to protect property.

So far this year 8.2 million acres have burned in the United States, which is 46 percent higher than the 5.6 million average to this date.

Red Flag Warning Northwest Montana
Red Flag Warning for Northwest Montana, September 11, 2017. There is a Fire Weather Watch due to “abundant lightning on dry fuels” predicted Tuesday afternoon for areas in northern California and south-central Oregon.

The weather for Monday and Tuesday could be conducive to fire growth, especially in Northwest Montana where a Red Flag Warning is in effect Monday. But Wednesday through Saturday will bring a chance of rain to Idaho and Western Montana, while the forecast for Northern California, Oregon, and Washington looks dry this week.

Weather forecast Wednesday September 13
Weather forecast for Wednesday September 13, 2017. Weather.com

Satellite detects heat from wildfires, September 7

(Originally published at 6:36 p.m. MDT September 7, 2017.)

Large wildfires Washington Oregon northern California
Large wildfires currently active in Washington, Oregon, and northern California. The red, yellow, and orange dots represent heat detected by a satellite in the 24 hour period ending at 10 a.m. MDT September 6.

These maps show heat that was detected by a satellite on wildfires in the northwestern United States during the 24-hour period ending at 6 p.m. Thursday September 7, 2017. We did not include heat from the 6 days previous to the last 24 hours.

If there was heat found, it means the fires are still active, however some of it could be from proactive burning by firefighters to secure the area between firelines and the edge of the fires.

map wildfires idaho montana
Large wildfires currently active in Montana and Idaho. The red, yellow, and orange dots represent heat detected by a satellite in the 24 hour period ending at 6 p.m. MDT September 7.