Smoky Skies Are A Blessing And A Curse On The Sheep Fire
The thick blanket of wildfire smoke over western Montana is a proving a blessing and a curse for firefighters in the state. The hazy conditions can rob fires of the oxygen they need to grow, but at the same time prevent aircraft from being able to drop water and fire retardant.
"Right now we haven’t had the ability to fly on the Sheep Fire very well, due to the smoky conditions," says Jonathan Moor, a public information officer on the Sheep fire that’s threatening the town of Essex just south of Glacier National Park.
Moor says the northernmost tip of that fire is now about a mile south of Essex. Essex has been under a pre-evacuation order since last Wednesday.
"Nothing’s changed today that significantly that we think that that evacuation order’s going to get kicked in right away"
Another information officer says forecast high winds for today didn't materialize, and winds tomorrow are expected to be calmer than initially feared.
Moor says that yesterday fire managers were able to get ground crews in for the first time to fight the 580 acre fire, which is burning in steep terrain in the Great Bear Wilderness.
"Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad used some of their equipment to bring us in along the railroad."
Moor says about 70 ground crew members are now actively building fireline between the Sheep Fire and Essex. The railroad is also planning to help remove logs from the area to reduce fuel available to the fire
That fire had closed U.S. Highway 2 and the adjacent BNSF and Amtrak rail corridor, but both are open now, although pilot cars are escorting traffic on Highway 2 and delays are to be expected."
Air quality in Montana is bad from Billings west. It’s listed as very unhealthy in Libby and the Flathead Valley, and un-healthy in Missoula, Hamilton, Butte, Helena, Seeley Lake, Great Falls and St Mary.