Wildfire Resources- useful links

This time of the year, it’s hard to tell where the smoke is coming from – there is just so much of it. Given how dry things are, and how thin our resources are spread, it’s good to keep informed.

So, where do we go?

State Map– helpful to get a quick glance and see if there’s anything new in the area.

InciWeb– Good for a broader map- the website also includes tables that list the reported incidents.

Code Red– Receive notifications of emergencies in your area.

TFS Volunteer Fire Department– they post information on Facebook, and they can always use help and support.

Fire Restrictions– What do the different stages mean? Find out here. Wondering which stage an area is in? They have a map!

Fire and Smoke Map– National level map. More useful to answer “where is the smoke coming from” when we don’t have as many fires nearby. Speaking of those…

Nearby Fires:

Burnt Peak and South Yaak Fires– Burnt Peak was 2,715 acres and 31% contained, as of about 7 pm July 26th. South Yaak was 1,523 acres and 10% contained. The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office has been putting updates out on Facebook. The South Yaak fire has seen both evacuation and pre-evacuation notices.

Closer to home, while not in Lincoln County, is the Hay Creek Fire. It is 4 miles West of Polebridge. As of 6 pm July 26th, it was 1,158 acres. The area receiving pre-evacuation notice for the Hay Creek Fire has been expanding.


Fire Sky

The air is hazy, and the sun is red. And the sunsets? The sunsets are vibrant. Why?

It is for the same reason a sunset is red. Particles in our atmosphere scatter light, and they scatter blue light more than red. At sunset, the sun reaches us through more of the atmosphere, and most of the blue has been filtered away from us, leaving us with the longer, redder wavelengths.

When the sky is filled with smoke, there are far more particles in the air to scatter light and the colors are more vivid.

Similarly the sun appears dimmer (more light is scattered) and redder (blue light is scattered more than red. Much of what reaches us is the red.


Breathing Smoke- Once Again

Well, the smoke has hit us a bit earlier this year, and it isn’t quite as hazy as it was last year when I wrote about breathing smoke. Smoke inhalation isn’t something to take lightly- it comes with a number of unpleasant symptoms.

Here’s Last Year:
Tuesday, September 15th of 2020

Smoke seemed to fill the air over the course of Saturday, with the mountains becoming increasingly difficult to see.

According to the CDC, breathing in smoke may have several immediate effects:

  • trouble breathing
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • headaches
  • scratchy throat
  • stinging eyes

These, among other unpleasant side-effects are caused primarily by the very small particles in smoke. While wildfire smoke can contain carbon monoxide (which also causes headaches), carbon monoxide seldom travels far from the initial fire. Ozone is also a concern, because it can form as the smoke plume moves away from the fire.

According to the EPA, the main components of wildfire smoke are: particulate matter (small, large), carbon dioxide, and ozone. Other chemicals are present, but in far smaller amounts. The major component that’s tracked is the very small particulate matter (small in this case means less 2.5 microns in diameter, which is substantially smaller than the diameter of a hair)

A clear day vs a photo taken around noon on Saturday

As our local air quality increasingly worsens the recommendations to stay indoors, avoid strenuous outdoor exertion, etc. become more broadly applicable, no longer applying only to sensitive groups.

The EPA, in addition to defining sensitive groups and noting that there’s been fairly little research done on the long term effects of smoke inhalation, offers some further information about staying indoors.

  • Tightly Closed Air conditioned homes where the air condition recirculates indoor air (instead of drawing in outside air) will keep air pollution outside more effectively
  • Open homes only in periods when the air is relatively clean
  • If cleaning use damp mopping or dusting to avoid putting particles back into the air
  • Minimize driving and trips outdoors
  • Reduce outdoor physical activity
  • Only use an air cleaner (air filter to the rest of us) that doesn’t produce ozone
  • Humidifiers may reduce eye/airway irritation in dry climates

With the skies remaining a bright white/gray, it remained a beautiful day to spend inside. Updates on the wildfire smoke (and a brief forecast) can be viewed on Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)’s website.


Trego Traffic

Traffic was a bit unusual this week. While the usual events (the food giveaway on Friday at the community hall, for example) backed up traffic and crowded parking lots on schedule, commuters Monday morning had a bit of a surprise.

As you may have noticed, the railway had a large machine parked near the railroad crossing. It appears to have been a production/switch tamper. Tampers appear to be a pretty important part of rail maintenance- they keep the rail smooth and reduce the risk of derailment.

6700 Production/Switch Tamper
Based on the markings on the side of the one that was loaded on Monday, this image should be of a similar model produced by the same company.

Around 7:30 on Monday morning, the machine was removed from the rail. This process involved both specialized ramps, a winch, a rather sizable truck/trailer, along with a crew of three.

They didn’t seem to waste any time, nor did they have too much difficulty. But it was seven thirty on a monday morning, blocking the most convenient/practical/timely way to work for anyone leaving on their morning commute.

The short eternity of winching the machine up actually only lasted until 7:50, after which traffic was allowed to pass through.

It was a fairly respectable line-up of cars and the crew was polite, offering a “Thank you for your patience” as they waved folks through.


Fireworks and Fires

When we risk fire, we do not just choose that risk for ourselves. Rather, we choose that risk for our neighbors as well.

As we approach the fourth of July, it’s time to start considering the fire danger. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, there were 19,500 fires started by fireworks in 2018 (not bad for a whole year- but also unlikely to be all of the fires started by fireworks- just the ones where people admitted to it).

Where do we learn about fire restrictions and fire danger? actually has a national map that includes all warnings, including red flag warnings. At the moment, we’re showing an “excessive heat warning” from noon Monday (6/28) to 8 PM Thursday.

If we’re not at red-flag level, it’s still important to know how close we are to reaching it. For that, we want to look at the fire potential map put out by the forest service and accompanying agencies. At the moment, we’re placed in high risk, coded orange. The area coded red moves closer as the forecast date moves further out into the week.

If you don’t feel like wandering out by one of the Smokey the Bear signs, you can get an update on the fire danger on the upper right of this page.

Given the (very) warm weather, and the lack of recent rain, the fire risk is worth watching. Fireworks and other flammable fun definitely requires some caution and consideration. Choose your risks carefully and keep watching the warnings/fire restrictions/etc.

As ever- we appreciate our local volunteer fire department– and hope not to need them! Thank you!


Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke

With the weather warming, it’s time to start thinking about heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Heatstroke is the more severe condition. Heat exhaustion usually comes before the heatstroke.

Why avoid heatstroke? The short answer is that it can be fatal.

Heatstroke, also called sunstroke, is the condition of having a core body temperature greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. This is dangerous for much the same reason that fevers are dangerous.

The proteins that make us up are folded into very specific shapes- and need to be in order to function. When heated, proteins unfold or denature. When cooled, they don’t always go back to their previous shape (in the same way that cooling an egg does not uncook it). This is why rapid treatment is important with heat stroke- long term organ damage and death are possibilities.

Symptoms of that very high body temperature? Nausea, seizures, confusion, heavy sweating (or sweating that has stopped), loss of consciousness, fast heart rate.

Heatstroke doesn’t typically happen out of the blue. It’s preceded by other heat related illnesses. Fainting due to heat, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion can all come before heatstroke. While the lesser heat induced illnesses are all treated by moving somewhere cooler, drinking fluids, and perhaps a cold bath… drinking water isn’t suggested for heatstroke. The reason for this seems to be that people suffering heatstroke may not be able to swallow safely. It isn’t that someone with heatstroke shouldn’t be given water -but keeping them from choking should be a consideration.

Heat exhaustion shares some symptoms with heatstroke. The difference matters, since heatstroke means medical attention is a necessity. Heat exhaustion can include a weak and rapid pulse, profuse sweating, headache, muscle cramping, and skin that is cool and clammy (potentially even with goosebumps) regardless of extreme heat.

While fainting can be a symptom of head exhaustion, first symptom of heatstroke is often fainting. Unconsciousness that lasts for more than a few seconds is cause for concern. At the transition from heat exhaustion to heatstroke, sweating decreases and skin changes from cool, pale and clammy to warm and red. As sweat evaporates and is not replaced, the skin becomes dry.

Who’s vulnerable? The young and the elderly, but also anyone outside exerting themselves when it is hot. Additionally, anyone not accustomed to hot weather- which, since acclimatizing typically takes several weeks, probably describes many of us right now.

So, take it easy. Stay inside during the warmest parts of the day. Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration (not the same as heatstroke, but a contributing factor and dangerous in its own right). Keep an eye on your friends and neighbors, and if they’re starting to look like they aren’t feeling so well, get them some rest somewhere cool and keep them company. If someone suffering heat exhaustion isn’t improving once they’ve had a chance to cool down, hydrate, and rest, it’s time to consider medical attention. Heat induced illness isn’t something to take lightly.

Community, Wildlife

On the Road and Around the Pond

Oh the Road & Around the Pond

This is an exciting time of year as we await the appearance of babies. We have does with rounded bellies. We have yet to see a fawn.  The fall burning of tree stumps around the yard resulted in holes and burrows that were not always filled before winter set in.  An opportunistic skunk moved into a burrow created by the removal of a tree root. Looking out the kitchen window we spotted 4 baby skunks. The babies are really cute but not particularly welcome.

He goslings are starting to color.  The ducks paused to finally get their portraits. We have spotted only a handful of tadpoles. Those tadpoles are steadily growing. The turtles are on the move and on the road. We noticed a neighbor stopping to carefully remove a turtle on the road to the safety of a grassed area.

A pair of whopping cranes are occasionally stopping to hunt in the field. The coyote is hunting in the field and along the road. The feral cats are making regular treks along the road. -Patches

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