The Red Shale fire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness has grown slightly since it was last surveyed by a helicopter on July 28 and on Sunday afternoon was estimated at 10,300 acres.
The previous estimate for the fire, which began from a lightning strike on July 18, was 8,631 acres.
The estimate, said Anaso Otsu, a Forest Service public affairs officer, is based on global positioning system data. The Forest Service can also use infrared sensing equipment for night flights to prepare estimates too.
The fire has received 0.27 of an inch of rain during the last seven days, she said, adding that slightly more than half of that moisture came during a single storm while the remainder was from drizzling rains at night.
There is no active effort to fight the fire, a Forest Service fire update notes, because heavy downfall in the rugged country and an abundance of snags — dead although standing trees that could fall —pose a hazard to firefighters.
Dense, young lodgepole pine stands and the remote location of the fire are also concerns to ensuring safety zones and escape routes for firefighters.
Forest Service personnel who are on the ground at the fire are providing data for fire managers and preparing precautions to preserve the administrative building there should the fire move toward it, Otsu said.
Even though the prevailing winds are carrying much of the smoke to the east and toward the town of Choteau, air quality monitoring equipment has been placed in Augusta in response to a request from a Lewis and Clark County commissioner.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors in Augusta and kids with asthma issues,” said Commissioner Susan Good Geise, who is from that rural community.
Asking for the monitor, Geise said, was to try and make sure people are kept safe, which is the top priority of a county commissioner.
She said she wanted the monitor for the community as winds can change.
Because she commutes between her home there and Helena, where the county has its offices, she said she has noticed smoke in the air in Augusta.
The air quality monitor was placed at an information station a couple of blocks from the town’s main street.
The Forest Service responded quickly to her request, she said, adding, “I was very grateful for that.”
The Augusta air quality monitoring equipment was set up July 27, four days after the Forest Service placed one at Ear Mountain, outside of Choteau.
According to the Forest Service, the monitors measure particulates in the air that are less than 2.5 micrometers in size. These smaller particles are called PM2.5.
While road dust that can coat a vehicle is ranked as a 10 in terms of particulate matter size, the finest of particulates, those that are of the greatest concern for health officials are about a quarter the size of that dust.
A Forest Service email notes that the national standard for these smaller particulates is 35 micrometers based on a 24-hour average.
However, while these monitors are keeping track of these tiny particles, the monitors are not approved by the Environmental Protection Agency as regulatory monitors so the equipment is used to track only smoke in the air.
How concentrations of particles in the air affect health, the email notes, is left to county officials.
The state website http://www.deq.mt.gov/FireUpdates/Break
pointsRevised.mcpx discusses particle concentrations in the air and health effects. The state website http://www.deq.mt.gov/FireUpdates/Smoke
Categories.mcpx provides cautionary statements based on those potential health effects.
The Augusta monitor can be found at www.wrcc.dri.edu/cgi-bin/rawMAIN4.pl?ids139++++M while the fire cache smoke monitor archive website that displays a map of the United States and active monitors is at www.wrcc.dri.edu/cgi-bin/smoke.pl.
The Augusta site is pin 39 on that map, said Michael Munoz, the Rocky Mountain District ranger who is stationed in Choteau. The Forest Service also has an office in Augusta. The Ear Mountain monitor is pin 53.
The monitors will allow the Forest Service to monitor air quality from a fire that’s in an area that has previously burned. The Red Shale fire is burning in the site of the 1988 Gates Park fire, he said.