One of the worst fire seasons in Montana is rendering parts of the state hazardous for air quality. In Ravalli County, a week of smoke-filled skies have forced health officials to declare air quality as hazardous.
Firefighters are preparing for a critical fire weather day, as a red flag warning in effect over the Bitterroot area from noon until midnight today, warns that gusty winds and extremely low relative humidity, will result in another active burning day for the Sawtooth Fire.
The Sawtooth blaze, which is about four miles west of downtown Hamilton, now stands at about 4,625 acres and has forced evacuations since it was sparked by lightning on August 30. Remote, steep, rocky and rugged terrain has made fighting the fire incredibly difficult says InciWeb, an incident information system.
With the red flag warning now in effect, Incident Commander, Tom Heintz, after conferring with Ravalli County Law Enforcement and Fire Officials has recommended an expansion of the Stage 1 Evacuation Notice already in place. The expansion says Heinz will affect:
All residents east of the intersection of Blodgett Camp Road and Canyon Creek Road to West Hills Way, including all roads that intersect West Hills Way and north to Blodgett Creek. This includes all homes on Hilltop Drive, Tawny View and all other roads intersecting West Hills Way. Also included are the homes west of the intersection of Blodgett View Drive and Black Forest Drive, and the homes west of the intersection of Elk Ridge Road and Conifer Trail.
The fire, only 20% contained, is just one of 28 separate fires burning across the state. The largest by far is the Mustang Complex fire, which has burned almost 300,000 acres across Montana and Idaho and has sparked Level 3 evacuations for the HWY 93 Corridor. Visibility is so bad in parts, pilot cars being used on Hwy 93 to navigate drivers through heavy smoke.
Smoke from the nearby Sawtooth fire is creating hazardous air conditions near Hamilton, MT.
The Missoula City-County Health Department reported that as of 9 AM Friday, the cumulative air quality in the Missoula Valley is 'Unhealthy'. "Smoke poured into the Missoula area from the Bitterroot Valley yesterday and will likely stick around for the immediate future," said the Department, "any breezes we see this afternoon will be from the south and will only deliver more smoke to our area."
Conditions are even worse southwards into the Bitterroot Valley. "Air quality in the Bitterroot is 'Very Unhealthy' and is nearing Hazardous conditions near the Sawtooth fire," explained the Health Department's newly released air quality report. "Smoke from Idaho fires (the Powell SBW, Mustang, McGuire and Sheep complexes), is still a threat to our air quality" as well, it said.
Sarah Coefield with the Missoula City-County Health Department told KPAX news:
Friday and Saturday are expected to be "quite smoky," with a break possible on Saturday night. Health officials recommend when air quality readings hit "hazardous," all children and adults should avoid or limit all outdoor exertion.
For the most current information on particulate air pollution levels throughout the state, it is recommended that Hamilton residents access Montana’s "Today's Air" web site. For state fire information and evacuation updates, visit InciWeb.org.