15 September 2012
SMOKE IN THE AIR
The 2012 Sawtooth wildfire is located in the forests of the Bitterroot Mountains west of Hamilton, Montana (see image above and maps below, click to enlarge). The fire is roughly 60 miles south of Missoula, and the enormous volume of smoke produced by the 6 square mile fire is making breathing a health hazard for communities in the Bitterroot Valley and confluent valleys and basins. For the past several days, the smoke has been so thick in Missoula that clear visibility is limited to a distance of a block or two. The mountain ranges surrounding the city are invisible through the miasma. The photo in a Missoulian article gives you an idea of air conditions this far from the fire. The residents of Hamilton must be suffering.
Given that my allergies include smoke, I venture out only rarely and briefly for mail or groceries, until the air clears. Thankfully my tiny apartment has air conditioning, making indoor life bearable for me and my two cats. Others are not so fortunate. This is part of living in southwestern Montana. Winter is long, Spring and Fall seem to last only a few weeks, and summer invariably brings wildfire season with its attendant smoky air, which can last from a few weeks to a few months. As climate change brings ever-drier conditions to the West, this writer is seriously considering moving to the moister climate of the Pacific Northwest.
Here is a map depicting the locations of serious wildfires in the U.S. The website is a seriously useful tool, including tabs to maps which show HAZMAT situations, disease outbreaks, gang activity, terrorism events, earthquakes, drug interdictions, and human trafficking.