The smoke that rolled in from Washington and Idaho on Sunday should be rolling out of the Missoula Valley by Tuesday morning.
“This is really regional smoke – there’s not one specific fire that’s hitting us now,” said Sarah Coefield, Missoula County air quality specialist. “It’s a moderate level of particulate pollution, but it’s been here for so long, people who are sensitive to it are starting to notice. Anyone with heart and lung disease, smokers, the elderly and children could be experiencing effects from the smoke.”
However, they should be doing better than residents of Kalispell and Libby, whose valleys are more in line with the wind currents blowing Montana's way.
National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Kitsmiller said visibility was down to three miles in Kalispell on Monday afternoon. He added that a projected weather change that could clear Missoula’s air starting Monday evening might take a day or two longer to scour those northern areas.
“We have a chance of showers or thunderstorms ... but it will be mostly around Butte and Hamilton,” Kitsmiller said. “Up here (around Missoula) it will be more hit-or-miss. But the temperatures will be cooler, down to the low 80s on Tuesday.”
The Wolverine Creek fire has burned about 16,000 acres west of Lake Chelan in north-central Washington. That’s probably providing most of Montana’s smoky skies, according to Coefield.
Some smoke was also coming from Idaho’s Green fire, which has burned across the Lolo Trail Road in the Lochsa-Powell Ranger District. The fire has grown to about 250 acres and closed portions of the Lolo Trail Road and the Nee-Me-Poo Trail.
The 177-acre Rock Point fire has held steady for the past week as it burns in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness three miles west of the Montana border near Lake Como.
In western Montana, a likely human-caused fire near Beavertail Hill east of Missoula was contained early Sunday evening after burning about three acres, according to Lolo National Forest spokesman Boyd Hartwig.
Another fire on the Flathead Indian Reservation southeast of Arlee has burned about 17 acres since it started Sunday afternoon. Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal fire investigator Devlin Lafrombois said a power line fell and started the blaze. A crew of nearly 70 firefighters with bulldozers and engines has been assigned.
Conditions could become troublesome across western Montana starting Thursday. That’s when windy conditions are forecast to move into the area, possibly stirring up any lightning strikes from the Tuesday storm front.
“We’re trying to get the public’s help to get through this fire season,” Hartwig said. “We’ve already had a string of human-caused fires, and now we’re going into the most active period we typically experience in August. That’s when we had the Lolo Complex (2013), the Jocko Lakes fire (2007), the Black Cat fire (2007) – the list goes on.”