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.

Maps of wildfires in the Northwest U.S.

More than 27,000 firefighters are deployed on wildfires in the United States.

(Originally published at 10:35 a.m. MDT September 6, 2107)

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 the locations of large wildfires that are currently active in the Northwest United States. 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.

large wildfires map idaho montana
Large wildfires currently active in Idaho and Montana. 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.

According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, today there are 50 large uncontained wildfires in the United States that are being aggressively suppressed. In addition, there are another 35 fires that are not being fully suppressed.

Very large numbers of firefighting resources are currently assigned across the United States, including 560 hand crews, 1,865 engines, and 222 helicopters, for a total of 27,256 personnel.

As of yesterday 7.9 million acres has burned this year nationally, which compares to the 10-year average of 5.4 million acres for this date.

The video below shows heat and smoke in Idaho and Montana detected by a satellite on September 3 and 4, 2017.

Rice Ridge Fire merges with Reef Fire

The Rice Ridge fire has burned 108,126 acres just east of Seeley Lake 35 miles northeast of Missoula, Montana.

Above: The red line on the map shows the perimeters of the Rice Ridge and Reef Fires at 12:45 a.m. September 5, 2017. The white line was the perimeter of the Rice Ridge Fire about 24 hours before.

(Originally published at 9:18 a.m. MDT September 5, 2017)

On Monday the Rice Ridge Fire grew on the south, east, and north sides adding another 6,701 acres, and has now burned 108,126 acres. It merged at Otis Creek with another fire to the north, the 10,424-acre Reef Fire. Combined, the fires have blackened 118,550 acres, well beyond the 100,000 threshold of becoming a “megafire”.

The spread on Monday was much less than on Sunday when it almost doubled. Numerous spot fires out ahead of the main fire from Sunday’s growth are active on the east side. On the south it spread for about a mile and crossed Cottonwood Lake-Monture Road.

The transition from Thompson’s Type 2 Incident Management Team to Poncin’s Type 1 Incident Management Team occurred at 6 a.m., Tuesday, September 5.

The weather forecast calls for moderate winds with rising temperatures through Friday, but the relative humidity will reach down into the teens each day.

There is not much expectation of rain on the fire this week except for a 20 to 30 percent chance Thursday night and Friday.

Resources assigned include 15 hand crews, 64 engines, and 4 helicopters. The total number of personnel on the fire decreased Monday from 817 to 787.