Updated satellite photo of wildfires in Western Montana and Northern Idaho

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.

Dozens of active wildfires in the Northwest U.S.

Above: Active wildfires in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Western Montana, and Northern California at 4:18 a.m. MDT August 16, 2017.

(Originally published at 10:21 a.m. MDT August 16, 2017)

Dozens of wildfires are active in the Northwest one-quarter of the United States. Many of them have been burning for several weeks under a limited suppression strategy. The states of Washington and Oregon have a total of 32 large uncontained fires that have spread over 810,171 acres.

Air Quality Index LegendAt times the area around Missoula has been heavily affected by smoke. Here are some PM 2.5 readings from Wednesday morning:

  • Seeley Lake: 180
  • Missoula: 33
  • Lolo: 54
  • Superior: 180
  • French Town: 19
  • Clinton: 26
wildfires near Missoula, Montana
Satellite photo showing smoke from wildfires near Missoula, Montana, August 15, 2017.
wildfires northwest california
Satellite photo showing smoke from wildfires in northwest California, August 15, 2017.
wildfires northwest united states
Active wildfires (without added name tags) in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Western Montana, and Northern California at 4:18 a.m. MDT August 16, 2017.

400 firefighter hand crews are deployed on fires in the United States

Above: A firefighter ignites a burnout on the Powerline Fire southwest of Pocatello, Idaho. Uncredited Inciweb photo, posted August 6, 2017.

(Originally published at 12:48 p.m. MDT August 6, 2017)

Wildland firefighters are much busier this year than in a typical year. To date, fires have burned 46 percent more acres than the 10-year average — 5,820,802 acres vs. the 3,962,906 average. In some years fire activity in Alaska, where many very large fires are not suppressed, can inflate these numbers, but so far that state can only account for 626,786 acres, not a huge number for Alaska.

400 hand crews, usually comprised of 20 people each, are deployed nationwide, along with 949 fire engines, and 120 helicopters for a total of 16,673 personnel.

map powerline fire
Map showing heat detected on the Powerline Fire southwest of Pocatello, Idaho by a satellite August 5 and 6, 2016. The red dots are the most current, at 4:04 a.m. MDT August 6. Some areas with light vegetation, such as grass, may have burned and cooled before the satellite overflight and were not detected.

Here are brief descriptions of some of the larger or more prominent fires:

  • Powerline (see the map and photo above): Since it was reported Friday night this fire has spread very rapidly. Saturday it was very active on the northeast and southeast sides. Using satellite data the Incident Management Team estimated early Sunday morning that it had burned over 40,000 acres, but that is a very rough guess. More accurate mapping by fixed wing aircraft will provide better numbers. The satellite information indicated that by 4:04 a.m. Sunday it had spread to within 6 miles of Pocatello, Idaho. It is moving into steeper terrain with heavier fuels, offering more resistance to control and is the #2 priority in the Great Basin Geographic Area according to the national situation report.
  • Mammoth Cave, southwest of Carey, Idaho. Since it started August 4 it has burned three structures and 30,000 acres. It is the number 1 priority in the Great Basin Geographic Area.
  • The Shoestring Fire between Shoshone and Gooding, Idaho has blackened about 12,000 acres since it started August 5. It is the #3 priority in the Great Basin Geographic Area.
  • The Rice Ridge Fire northeast of Seeley Lake, MT is the #1 priority in the Northern Rockies Geographic Area and is threatening over 1,000 structures. It added almost 700 acres on Saturday to bring the total to 7,740.
  • The Sunrise Fire, 12,900 acres, the #2 priority in the Northern Rockies Geographic Area, grew by 600 acres Saturday. It has been burning since July 16, growing every day, adding several hundred acres daily on the east or northeast sides. It is now mapped at 12,900 acres.
  • The Hanover Fire, in a very remote area 15 miles northwest of Riggins, Idaho, was extremely active on Saturday. The Incident Management Team reports that it has burned 4,479 acres.
  • Parker 2, 10 miles east of Alturas, California. It was very active Saturday, adding 5,300 acres, growing to 7,100 acres.
  • Minerva 5, just south of Quincy, California. It has burned 4,088 acres and the voluntary evacuation of the town has been lifted. Firefighters completed a firing operation Saturday night.
 sawyer Minerva 5 Fire
A sawyer on the Minerva 5 Fire, August 2, 2017. Inciweb photo, uncredited.

Fires in Western Montana still very active

The fires are consuming thousands of acres each day and producing large quantities of smoke.

Above: Satellite photo taken August 1, 2017 showing smoke produced by wildfires in western Montana and Northeastern Idaho. The red dots represent heat detected by a sensor on the satellite.

(Originally published at 10:48 a.m. MDT August 2, 2017)

The residents of Western Montana have been dealing with wildfire smoke for several weeks and there is no relief in sight.

Our map above identifies eight of the largest blazes in the area. Here are a few facts about some of them, with them ranked in priority order according to fire management officials.

  • Rice Ridge: Six miles north of Seeley Lake, MT; 3,994 acres, 150 personnel assigned.
  • Sunrise: Six miles south of Riverbend, 9,900 acres, 548 personnel assigned.
  • Sapphire Complex: Three fires, 15 miles southeast of Clinton, MT, 12,756 acres, 864 personnel assigned.
  • Lolo Peak: 8 miles southwest of Lolo, MT, 5,724 acres, 822 personnel assigned.
  • Arrastra Creek: 6 miles northwest of Lincoln, MT, 3,675 acres, 127 personnel assigned.
  • Whetston Ridge: 25 miles southwest of Philipsburg, MT, 3,621 acres, 30 personnel assigned.

Satellite view of four wildfires in Idaho and Nevada

Above: Smoke from the Roosters Comb Fire was captured in a photo by the (non-operational) GOES-16 satellite at 7:30 p.m. MDT July 10, 2017.

(Originally published at 7:20 a.m. MDT July 11, 2017)

Four wildfires in northeast Nevada and southern Idaho are large enough that satellites are able, in some cases, to see the smoke and the blackened burned areas. These photos were taken late in the afternoon on Monday July 10.

The one putting up the most smoke Monday was the Roosters Comb Fire which as of Monday evening had burned approximately 25,000 acres in Nevada 17 miles northeast of Battle Mountain. It was reported at 9 p.m. Sunday July 9. The fire is spreading rapidly through grass, sagebrush, and pinyon-juniper.

smoke Roosters Comb fire Nevada Idaho
Four wildfires in Nevada and Idaho were photographed by a satellite Monday afternoon, July 10, 2017.

Farther to the east in Nevada is the Tabor Flats Fire 27 miles northeast of Elko close to Interstate 80. The reported size of this fire is also 25,000 acres. The fire behavior in the tall grass is described as “extreme, running, flanking, wind driven runs”.

In Idaho the Loveridge Fire has burned over 38,000 acres 18 miles south of Mountain Home. It was shown as contained in the Tuesday morning national situation report. The heat detected by the satellite in that area (shown as red dots) could either be from the Loveridge Fire or a new fire in the same area.

The Antelope Fire at Shoshone, Idaho just south of Interstate 84 has covered 29,500 acres. It is exhibiting extreme fire behavior with wind-driven runs.

Idaho legislature refuses to close loophole in fireworks regulations

The state of Idaho has a ridiculous law regulating the use of fireworks. It prohibits the use of fireworks that fly more than 20 feet into the air, including bottle rockets and aerial displays, that are used for private purposes. However, they can be sold in the state without any problem. The buyer simply has to promise by signing a form that they will not use them in Idaho.

Yesterday House Minority Leader Rep. Mat Erpelding introduced legislation that would close this loophole, making the sale of the illegal fireworks illegal. However within hours on a vote of 9 to 6 it was shot down by the House State Affairs Committee.

Dennis Doan, Chief of the Boise Fire Department, released a statement on Monday:

I would like to thank Rep Erpelding for his leadership on this issue. It was clear by the actions of the committee today they do not care about firefighter safety, or if people’s homes and lives are being destroyed by illegal fireworks every year. The exorbitant cost to taxpayers and local governments, and the fact that six homes in Ada County were burned down last year, was not enough to influence their decision to print a bill which would allow a full hearing and dialogue about this important issue.

The ability to purchase illegal fireworks apparently trumps the right of residents to protect their home from fires. This summer when someone’s home burns down due to aerial fireworks you can blame the House State Affairs Committee.

The 2,500-acre Table Rock Fire in the Boise foothills last June was caused by illegal fireworks, burned a home, and cost taxpayers $341,000, according to Chief Doan.