Lolo Peak firefighters brace for Red Flag Warning


FLORENCE, Mont. - Firefighters on the Lolo Peak Fire are braced for a Red Flag Warning. Winds and low humidity could create more growth.

They're cautiously optimistic that expected rains will help them get a handle on the fire that's been burning since July.

Air quality moved from very unhealthy in Florence Wednesday morning to moderate Wednesday afternoon.

The Missoula Health Department's air quality specialist, Sarah Coefield, said as long as fire burns in the mountains there will be smoke in the valley.

The veil of smoke cleared enough so you could see the Bitterroot Mountains Wednesday.

It's made the fires burning in the Lolo Peak Fire more visible.

Winds and low humidity aren't welcome. But rain is.

"It's a very resilient fire," said fire information officer Derek Ibarguen, "so we will take action as necessary when we have this rain. There is potential for more rain next week, and we're looking at that, but we're certainly not in the clear."

Any day you see at least some of the smoke disappear is a day to remark on.

Florence has been on the radar just about all summer as a place not to be if you want to be outside.

Sylann Smith took her little girl Alexis outside Wednesday. It's an event. Alexis has had to spend a lot of time indoors this summer. She watches movies with her mom or colors in her coloring book.

"Anything that keeps her creative," Smith said, "and her mind off of 'Oh, I want to go outside.' I say, 'No we can't. It's too smoky and unhealthy.'"

At Valley Drug and Variety in Stevensville people have been buying more eye drops than usual. Owner and pharmacist Chad Smith estimates there's been a 20-percent increase in customers who want relief from the smoke.

It includes lots of prescription inhalers and masks.

"Our wholesaler has been experiencing some shortages of masks," said Smith. "It's kind of hit or miss when they come in. But for the most part we've been able to keep a pretty good supply."

Reached by phone late Wednesday afternoon Ibarguen told NBC Montana that winds were gusting up to 25 miles an hour in the mountains with more fire activity.

He said it was bringing more smoke into the valley.