By Zach Hagadone
Bonner County residents — as with most everyone living in the Western United States — continue to suffer smoke-choked skies as large fires burn across millions of acres, primarily in Arizona, California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Washington.
Yet crews were able to fully extinguish one blaze in Bonner County — the Hunter 2 fire near Blanchard consumed about 740 acres before fire managers announced Sept. 12 that it had been 100% contained. Reported on Sept. 7, the cause of the fire remains under investigation as firefighters continue to keep an eye on hot spots.
The team that handled the Hunter 2 fire has since been moved to the Bernard fire, which is burning on 880 acres of steep, timbered terrain in the Echo Bay area southeast of Bayview. The origin of that fire has been determined as human-caused, though it remains under investigation. As of Sept. 15, fire officials reported 91 personnel working the blaze, including the Lolo hotshot crew, other hand crews and several engines supported as available by airborne suppression efforts. According to the fire information reporting website inciweb.nwcg.gov, the Bernard fire, which was reported Sept. 7, is at 20% perimeter containment and threatens some private property, structures and infrastructure at Gold Creek Lodge and Lakeview. An area closure remains in effect.
Meanwhile, the Callahan fire, reported at 20 acres on Sept. 8, has become the largest blaze in Bonner County, now burning on 1,200 acres of steep timber and brush south of Smith Mountain about nine miles west of Troy, Mont.
InciWeb reported 120 firefighters were at the site of the fire Sept. 16, using a range of equipment including aircraft. Unknown in origin and under investigation, the Callahan fire has forced the closure of roads and trails in the Smith Mountain, South Callahan Creek, Goat Creek, Glad Creek, Caribou Creek and Smith Lake areas.
Fire bosses estimate full containment may not be achieved until Thursday, Oct. 15.
Meanwhile, officials are concerned about dry, smoky conditions and lack of precipitation on the Callahan fire, and a warming and drying trend along with light winds forecasted on the Bernard fire.
As of noon on Sept. 16, North Idaho skies remained smoky with an air quality index rating of 179 — or “unhealthy” — with the possibility of conditions worsening to “very unhealthy” on Thursday, Sept. 16, according to airnow.gov, which is operated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other government partners.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service forecast for Sandpoint showed smoke through Thursday, Sept. 16, with a high of 77 degrees and a low of 52, and light winds coming from the northeast. By Friday, Sept. 19, those winds may have helped push some of the smoke from the area and conditions are expected to turn partly sunny with a high of 79 during the day. Forecasters give a 60% chance of rain Friday night — mainly after 11 p.m. — with a low of 51.
The rain on Sept. 19 will perhaps bring more precipitation over the weekend, with an 80% chance of showers and a high of 65 on Saturday, Sept. 20. Temperatures Saturday are expected to drop to a low of 46 overnight, with a 60% chance of continued showers and patchy fog likely to roll in after 8 p.m.
While the rain may be welcome, the Bernard fire update of Sept. 15 noted that those showers will probably not contribute much to dampening the blaze.
The fog is forecast to last until around 8 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 21, with a 30% chance of showers during the day and partly sunny with a high of 68. Patchy fog may return Sunday night after 10 p.m. with a low around 44 degrees.
For fire info and updates visit inciweb.nwcg.gov. For weather forecasts, visit nws.noaa.gov. For air quality updates go to airnow.gov.
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