Friday, August 13, Hamilton's and Missoula's air monitors recorded "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups," up from a "Moderate" air quality ranking only hours before. Yet, no new fire activity in the immediate area, or in nearby fires in other forests west and south of us. Where is the smoke coming from?

Tod McKay of the Bitterroot National Forest shared information from regional USFS authorities, showing smoke coming from a little farther away in the Pacific Northwest, including Canada (image below). As a new weather system approaches in the next few days, the smoke will be collecting in our valleys. However, as of Friday morning, there are no new fires in the Bitterroot National Forest.

That's not to say that local firefighters are idle. Two of the three fires in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, south and east of the valley, are a little more active. The Alder Creek and Christensen Fires near Wise River have been requesting more air support. Since the Ravalli County Airport in Hamilton recently became a center for Single Engine Air Tankers this season there are five aircraft that will be making numerous flights to the Big Hole to help fight those forest flames. McKay said neighbors will notice more tankers in the air throughout the day. Those flights are not for any local fires.

The Bitterroot National Forest is at Stage 2 Fire Restrictions, as are most areas in Western Montana. That means no campfires and you need to keep your vehicles on established roads in the woods. The fire danger is down from "Extreme," but is still at the dangerous "Very High" fire rating. If you see smoke somewhere you weren't expecting to see it, call the 9-1-1 or the Bitterroot National Forest.

Smoke and wind on August 12. (Zoom Earth)

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