Distant blazes bring smoke to Jackson area
By Mark Huffman, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
August 3, 2012
People in Jackson Hole woke Thursday to one of the brownest skies of the summer, a sure sign of fire.
But staffers at the Bridger-Teton National Forest said that while the smoke was certainly from wildfires, there was no reason for alarm: It wasn’t our smoke.
“We’ve gotten a lot of calls, a lot of interest” about the gray-brown haze, said Mary Cernicek, a Bridger-Teton public affairs officer. “It’s none of the fires around here ... there’s no imminent fire threat in and around the valley.”
Cernicek said worry is no surprise: “Any time you get smoke, folks get nervous,” she said. “It’s understandable — a lot of people here remember the Green Knoll Fire” of 2001 that burned 4,400 acres in the Snake River Range just south of Wilson. No houses were lost, but 150 were threatened.
A check of weather patterns shows the smoke that blanketed Jackson Hole on Thursday probably came from the north and west. There’s a fire in south-central Montana in Crow country, fires in the Dakotas and also one called the Halstead Fire near Sun Valley, Idaho.
Local winds, inversions and large weather fronts can combine to push smoke around in surprising ways, Cernicek said.
Forecasts indicated the smoke around Teton County wouldn’t last and was likely “to get blown back” to where it came from, Cernicek said.
Though the summer has been dry and the fire season began early, Cernicek said there’s no big fire near Jackson. A fire on the ridge between Cache Creek and Game Creek had grown to about one-third of an acre Thursday afternoon after being started by lightning Wednesday night, she said. That fire was reported by a mountain biker.
Near Moran, the Bear Cub Fire continued to burn, and there was also a new 1-acre fire along Butte Creek. The closest large blaze is the Fontenelle Fire, which has blackened 64,000 acres near Big Piney since it was reported June 24.
The Forest Service judges smoke hazards based on visibility, Cernicek said. It isn’t until visibility is cut to less than about a mile that it’s considered a serious health threat, though older people or those with breathing problems can be affected by lesser concentrations.
Fire danger is rated “high” in the Bridger-Teton. Cernicek said people should be careful in the forest, warning that fire season is still young and that there’s a good chance of fires both near and far before summer ends.
“This probably isn’t the last of the smoke we’ll be seeing,” she said.