Red air quality alert extended through Tuesday for Treasure Valley

Alerts sent out Monday afternoon warn of unhealthy air in Ada and Canyon counties through Tuesday due to regional wildfires. Air quality in North Idaho, where serious fires still burn, is even worse, according to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s monitoring systems.

The forecast Air Quality Index (AQI) is 151 for the Treasure Valley, due to continued elevated smoke impacts from local and regional wildfire activity. Intermittent periods of clearing may occur in some areas, but current smoke impacts are expected to persist through the week, ranging from yellow (moderate) to red (unhealthy). Before this past Thursday, the last time the Treasure Valley saw red air quality days was in August and September 2012.

In the Moscow and Grangeville areas, air quality is forecast as purple or “very unhealthy,” with an AQI of 201. And Lewiston’s purple AQI of 300 falls just below the state’s worst air quality designation, maroon or “hazardous.”

The smoke from nearby fires that clung to Idaho throughout the week will not let up any time soon, according to the National Weather Service and DEQ. The DEQ has issued a Stage 1 air quality advisory for the entire state of Idaho, prohibiting all forms of burning.

There’s not much chance that upcoming weather systems will push the smoke out of the Treasure Valley, said Kori Anderson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

There are slight chances of thunderstorms Tuesday and Wednesday, but they aren’t likely to move smoke out, he said.

Australian and New Zealand firefighters arrived in Boise and collected gear on Monday with plans to fan out to help with short-staffed wildfires burning in several western states.

Simon Martin, 40, of Collie, Australia, was among the 71 firefighters picking up equipment at the National Interagency Fire Center.

“I’m sure there are a lot of fatigued firefighters out there,” Martin told the Associated Press.

The firefighters are intended to fill a shortage of mid-level fire managers and include equipment bosses, strike team leaders and division supervisors who will bolster some 32,000 firefighters already in the field fighting more than 70 large fires.

Officials said it wasn’t clear which fires the firefighters would be assigned to. Fifteen of the firefighters are from New Zealand and the rest from Australia.

The nations have been firefighting partners for more than 50 years, and are able to lend each other firefighters because the severest part of their fire seasons occur at opposite times of the year. The last time the U.S. asked for help from the two countries was in 2008, with 50 firefighters arriving. The U.S. sent firefighters abroad in 2007, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman said.


Also Monday, firefighters held and secured fire lines against the Clearwater Complex, a group of fires burning in timber a couple miles from the northern Idaho town of Kamiah. The lightning-sparked blazes have destroyed 42 homes and scorched about 72 square miles, but nearly 800 firefighters have them 45 percent contained after two weeks of effort. So far, about 46,000 acres have burned. The fires are now being managed as three large complexes — Clearwater, Municipal near Craigmont and Orofino, and Motorway near Syringa and the Lolo Motorway.

Small fires continue to spark. Above Lucky Peak Reservoir, a rollover wreck ignited grass at about 10 a.m. Monday off Highland Valley Road. The Hornet Fire reached just about half an acre before it was put out, said JacQueline Link, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The BLM initially reported that the driver in the crash was injured, but later said the driver was alright, “just a little shaken up.”

The Jakes Fire started Sunday evening and burned about 3 acres in steep terrain north of Squaw Butte Lookout. It was started by an ATV on fire; the BLM listed few other details about that cause, but said no one was injured and no structures were threatened. A quick response involving smokejumpers from McCall and a helitack crew helped keep the fire from spreading, and it is expected to be fully controlled Tuesday.

Crews battled a 5-acre fire through the weekend near Robie Creek called the Toll Fire. Several agencies responded to the blaze, which was started by a vehicle fire, according to David Olson, spokesperson for the Boise National Forest. Crews from the Idaho Department of Lands, BLM, Forest Service, Wilderness Ranch and Robie Creek were all on hand, and it was reported contained Monday.

The Boise National Forest’s Cougar Fire, burning about 830 acres about 20 miles northeast of Cascade in Valley County, was nearly 50 percent contained Monday evening. Warm Lake Highway 22 was still open, though visibility was low.

Part of the Payette National Forest remained closed over the weekend because of the Tepee Springs Fire south of Riggins. Evacuations were in effect for the east side of U.S. 95 from north of Smokey Boulder Road to south of Hazard Creek Road. The fire has burned more than 10,000 acres. As of Monday evening, containment of the perimeter was estimated at 25 percent.

The Middle Fork Complex burning in the Salmon area led the Salmon-Challis National Forest to close five trails. The lightning sparked fires burning in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness "will be permitted to play their natural ecological role in the wilderness," officials said.