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Air Quality Gets Worse – No Relief

mustang smoke
Smoke fills the valleys around the Mustang Fire south of the Bitterroot Valley. (USFS Photo)
The hourly particulate count at the Ravalli County Courthouse monitor in Hamilton reached “Hazardous” during a short time early this morning. It has gone back “Very Unhealthy” in the hourly counts, and the cumulative 8-hour and 24-counts remain in the “Hazardous” levels.

A new monitor has appeared on the Montana DEQ Air Quality website – Frenchtown. And the levels there caused another cancellation of the Hamilton-Frenchtown football game. That game had been postponed from Friday night to Saturday morning in Frenchtown. Early Saturday, school officials called it off. Add that to the Hamilton High School Invitational Golf Tournament cancellation and the numerous Bitterroot Valley soccer games that have been cancelled all week.

Meanwhile, one of the main causes of smoke this week – the Sawtooth Fire west of Hamilton – is estimated at 4,725 acres. That’s a slight growth of 200 acres from Friday morning. Firefighters are working on the south edge of the fire and continue to work in toward the fire from the fireline on the eastern edge. Crews have been scouting for a location for contingency line between Canyon Creek and Blodgett Creek, as part of patrolling the north side of the fire. The Stage 1 and Stage 2 evacuation zones have not changed.

Ravalli County was not in a “red flag warning” Saturday morning, but immediately south of the valley – where the 302,000 acre Mustang fire is located – fire managers are under another wind “red flag” warning. Wind caused an 18,000 acre jump in acreage Friday, much of it in the direction of Allen Mountain.

Travelers, be aware. The Mustang Fire is in the US 93 corridor south of Lost Trail Pass in Idaho. There are now occasional traffic delays, heavy smoke (see photo) and pilot cars have been leading traffic at times, especially at night. The highway remains open.

The Powell Complex at the north end of Selway Bitterroot Wilderness is estimated at 45,000 and has been alongside US 12 much of the week. Motorists should use caution and drive slowly, with their headlines on along Highway 12 from the Powell Ranger Station in Idaho downriver. Crews are using helicopters to cool down hot spots along the highway corridor.

To the west, the town of Dixie, Idaho, has been evacuated because of the unpredictable 30,000 acre McGuire Fire. Now, officials have closed any access to Dixie, leaving the town empty except for firefighters. Yesterday, the McGuire Fire was affected by wind with group tree torching, short crown runs and spotting, especially on the east flank, just above Dixie. The fire crossed Road 222 in several places. There is a National Weather Service smoke advisory for that area.

Still, activities continue. The Hamilton Farmers Market was open Saturday morning, and it looked pretty crowded. Limit your time outdoors, though.

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