UPDATE: Gianforte Declares Fire Emergency.
The Department of Environmental Quality reports that air quality in the Flathead Valley has dropped to “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” Thursday afternoon. Air pollutants have reached 42.6 micrograms per cubic meter of air signifying that sensitive groups of people should do their best to remain indoors and keep outdoor activity to a minimum.
We’ll continue monitoring the air quality as it continues to deteriorate throughout the day. Air quality is expected to worsen as we continue into the weekend with temperatures rising across the valley, but weather forecasters are hopeful that the high pressure system is on the move and we will see some relief as rain and thunderstorms come in sometime next week.
The cause of the drop in air quality appears to be multiple fires raging across the state. The closest being the Burnt Peak fire, a 1,361 acre fire in the Kootenai National Forest in western Libby. The fire appears to have started due to a lightning strike on the morning of July 7th, as reported by InciWeb, an interagency all-risk incident information management system. As of Thursday morning the fire is being reported as 10% contained.
A complex of seven fires spanning 1,692 acres on the western side of Lolo National Forest continue to rage Thursday as well. As hot, dry, and unstable weather conditions continue the forecast for containing the fire appears grim, with a current estimated containment date of October 31st and a current containment rate of only 1% being reported by InciWeb.
Other fires in Montana include the Granite Pass Complex west of Missoula which grew 300 acres overnight to 1,134 acres as of Thursday morning. Evacuation orders remain in effect from the Idaho border to Lolo Hot Springs, as per the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office.
We’ll continue to monitor the air quality and fire situation as the situation changes.