Fires in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming causing widespread air pollution

2013-08-16T00:00:00Z 2014-06-02T14:52:27Z Fires in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming causing widespread air pollutionBy EDDIE GREGG egregg@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The veil of haze that drifted over Billings and much of central Montana on Friday came from the dozens of wildfires burning in Idaho and western Montana, according to the National Weather Service in Billings.

The 40-plus active wildfires in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming had burned a total of about 485,000 acres as of Friday night, according to incident reports.

The air flow pattern carrying the smoke from Idaho and western Montana is expected to change from southwest to west over Saturday and Sunday, which will direct the smoke more over Wyoming, said National Weather Service forecaster Tom Humphrey.

“It should get a little better as we head into Saturday and Sunday,” he said.

But as long as the fires continue, more haze is possible in central Montana if the wind conditions continue to bring the smoke east and northeast, Humphrey explained.

Wyoming wildfires

Seven active wildfires that have burned about 18,400 acres were reported in Wyoming on Friday.

The largest of those, the Hardluck fire in the Shoshone National Forest, had burned 16,100 acres and was still uncontained on Friday.

Officials said residents in Cody and surrounding communities should expect smoke and haze from the Hardluck and other fires in the region.

A handful of fires started by lightning were reported to be burning in Yellowstone National Park on Friday as well.

The largest of the fires, the Alder fire, was estimated to be about 50 acres Thursday evening.

It was discovered on Wednesday on Promontory Peninsula in Yellowstone Lake.

The fire was expected to grow Friday and campsites on the peninsula have been closed.

A cold front forecasted to move over the area late Saturday and Sunday “could bring limited relief and even a chance for some isolated showers and thunderstorms” park officials said in a news release.

Idaho wildfires

In Idaho, officials reported 19 active wildland fires that had consumed more than 432,000 acres by Friday evening.

The largest of the fire systems, the Pony Complex fire in southwest Idaho, was reported to be 90 percent contained after burning just short of 150,000 acres.

About 300 personnel were still fighting the fire, according to the most recent reports on the complex. Officials said the Pony Complex is in the “mop-up and monitor stage,” except for some areas on the northwestern flank of

the fire.

A lightning strike reportedly started the fire on Aug. 8 about 12 miles northeast of Mountain Home, Idaho.

The nearby Elk Complex fire was reported to be 50 percent contained after burning more than 125,000 acres and destroying some 80 buildings.

More than 800 firefighters are involved in fighting the fire, which isn’t expected to be contained until October. The fire, located about 10 miles southwest of Pine, Idaho, was also started by a lightning strike Aug. 8.

Montana wildfires

In Montana, the active wildfire tally is at 15, with those fires having burned a total of more than 35,000 acres, according to inciweb.org, an interagency information website for wildfires.

The largest of those fire systems, the Gold Pan Complex, has burned about 18,000 acres in the Bitterroot National Forest.

The fire is actually burning just west of the Montana state line in Idaho, but the U.S. Forest Service office involved in handling the fire is headquartered in Hamilton.

The Red Shale fire, in the Lewis and Clark National Forest about 35 miles west of Choteau, has been burning since July 18 and grew to about 9,400 acres Friday, officials reported.

The Eureka fire, burning about 35 miles southwest of Ennis, was reported to have burned about 1,500 acres as of Friday. About 290 personnel are fighting the fire, which has been burning since being sparked by a lightning strike Aug. 12.

The closest major wildfire to Billings, the Emigrant fire, was reported to have burned 625 acres as of Friday evening. The fire has been burning in the Paradise Valley south of Livingston since July 21. About 30 personnel continue to monitor the fire, which is only reported to be 5 percent contained.

The newest reported Montana wildfire is the 70-acre North Eightmile fire, which started Friday.

The fire is burning about 20 miles southwest of Livingston. Friday, eight smoke jumpers, a helicopter and two air tankers worked to contain the blaze, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

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