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KLYQ’s Ravalli County News Story of 2012 – Smoke

smoke in Bitterroot Valley
This photo was taken in the late afternoon during the Ravalli County Fair from the East Side Highway. (Fullerton Photo)
In mid-August, the air monitor at the Ravalli County Courthouse in Hamilton reached the level “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.” It got worse during the next few weeks.

The reason – forest fires.

Forest fires in Idaho had been growing rapidly, some with massive amounts of bug-killed trees. The prevailing winds brought smoke over to the valley from the Nez Perce Forest and Clearwater National Forest and from the huge Mustang fire along the Salmon River on Salmon-Challis National Forest. We even received smoke from fires in Washington and California.

And, to make matters worse, the rain stopped.

For over a month and a half, no rain in Hamilton. And almost no rain on the forest fires in Idaho. No wind, either – causing the smoke to settle and build in intensity. It reminded some of us of the Fires of 2000, where the huge fire in the south end of the valley brought the thickest smoke in Hamilton in recent memory. But that smoke screen didn’t last as long as 2012.

In the midst of all the smoke, the Sawtooth Fire started south of Hamilton, and with a wind during the Ravalli County Fair weekend, it spread onto the face of Downing Mountain, approaching 400 homes west of Hamilton. The fire caused a large evacuation, but no homes were lost, thanks to hard work from U.S. Forest Service crews and all the Bitterroot Valley Volunteer Fire Departments.

And, even though the danger from the Sawtooth Fire passed, the smoke continued…all during September…into October.

We surpassed a record for no precipitation in Hamilton. Finally, a storm system sneaked in. At KLYQ that morning, we played the Gene Kelly song, “Singin’ In the Rain.”

More rain fell and temperatures dropped. By the middle of October, the fire restrictions on the forests were lifted, and we could see the trees that had taken on their fall colors, hidden by the smoke.

KLYQ did more reporting on the smoke from the forest fires than any other single event and put “smoke” at the top of our news story list for 2012.

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