“Drift smoke” from the massive wildfire burning outside Yosemite National Park in California continued to hinder air quality across western Montana on Monday.
A stubborn southwesterly flow was sweeping the smoke into the area, said Chris Gibson, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Missoula.
“We still think it’s the Yosemite fire,” Gibson said, noting that with the recent cloud cover and multitude of smaller fires burning across the region it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the smoke was coming from. “But the flow is still coming up from the southwest.”
Missoula air quality remained “good” throughout the day. But air quality in Frenchtown deteriorated to “moderate” by Monday afternoon.
Air quality in Hamilton fluctuated between moderate and unhealthy throughout the day. By Monday evening, it was “unhealthy for certain groups,” according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality air quality website.
Overcast conditions with highs reaching the mid-80s to low 90s are expected to continue through the week, Gibson said.
A smattering of scattered showers could help clear the air, he said. But a change in the air flow is not expected until next weekend to help shift smoke out of the area.
“On Sunday, the flow will turn to the west and sweep a lot of the smoke out of here,” Gibson said. “But in the meantime what you see is what you get.”
A handful of fires are still burning across western Montana, including the lightning-caused Beaver Creek fire burning northwest of Pintler Lake, 18 miles northwest of Wisdom.
The fire grew to 75 acres Sunday when afternoon winds picked up. Safety concerns kept ground crews from directly fighting the fire on Monday, but weather was calmer most of the day, allowing helicopter crews to work, said Arlee Staley, a public information officer.
Helicopter crews’ priority was to keep the fire from moving into the Beaver Creek drainage and keep the heel of the fire from compromising the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail.
“We’re still doing bucket work, but as far as direct attacks, we’re not doing that today,” Staley said.
Still, Staley didn’t expect the fire’s size to change Monday.
The Continental Divide trail and the Pintler campground remain open, but Pintler Trail No. 203, Beaver Creek Trail No. 3368 and Mystic Lake Trail No. 3369 are closed.
The Nez Perce fire burning nearby in the Salmon-Challis National Forest in Idaho grew substantially Sunday night, increasing from 65 acres to 251 acres by Monday evening, according to the incident information website Inciweb.org.
The lightning-caused fire is burning in steep, inaccessible terrain full of grass and timber and is located four miles east of Gibbonsville, Idaho.
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail beginning at Big Hole Pass, along with the West Fork Nez Perce Creek Trail, Three Mile Creek Trail and Anderson Mountain Road are closed due to the Nez Perce fire.
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The Gold Pan fire burning southwest of Conner grew by more than 1,000 acres to 42,319 acres during the weekend, thanks to above normal temperatures and low relative humidity, according to inciweb.org.
On Monday, a host of heavy equipment worked to chip fuel and clear snags on the fire’s east side.
Cloud cover and calm winds kept the fire less active, said Tod McKay, a spokesman for the Bitterroot National Forest.
With the forecast return of rain showers, decreased fire activity is expected through Wednesday.
A large area of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness around the fire area remains closed, but the Magruder Corridor is open to vehicles between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day, McKay said.
Crews made good progress Sunday and Monday on two small fires burning in the Lolo National Forest.
The Point Six fire burned three acres in a remote area of the Rattlesnake Wilderness near Point Six, but crews had it 80 percent contained, according to an email from Lolo National Forest spokesman Boyd Hartwig.
The Harry’s Flat Fire (formerly Harry Complex fire) grew to 200 acres, but crews had established “point zone protection locations” to keep the fire from structures and property. The fire grew only in remote areas, Hartwig said.
The Harry’s Flat fire is burning west of Harry’s Flat Campground in the Rock Creek drainage approximately 15 miles south of Interstate 90.
It caused the closure of Cinnamon Bear Trail No. 93, which is closed for the entire length from the trailhead at Rock Creek Road to its terminus at Road No. 2129; and the Cinnamon Bear Point Trail No. 346, which is closed for its entire length from the junction with Trail No. 93 to the terminus at Cinnamon Bear Point.
Both the Point Six and Harry’s Flat fires were lightning caused.
Mop-up of the Lolo Creek Complex fire continued Monday, as a Type 3 Incident Management Team took over operations in the evening.
Included in the Monday morning update was a thank you from Northern Rockies National Incident Management Team head Greg Poncin, whose group took over responsibility for the fire shortly after a blow-up on Aug. 19.
“It is difficult for a community to temporarily absorb the equivalent of another small town within its midst,” Poncin wrote. “The Lolo community has been very gracious during our stay here and we thank you.”
Meg Nimitz, the fire information officer, said Monday evening crews were made aware that forecast rain showers in the next few days have the potential to cause flooding in heavily burned areas, but that it wasn’t an immediate concern.
The Lolo Creek Complex fire burned 10,902 acres and is expected to be fully contained by Tuesday.
The Monday update also reminded residents and travelers that they will see smoke coming from the interior of the burned area until season-ending weather completely extinguishes the fire.