Printed on: July 24, 2013

Smoke makes unwelcome return to Salmon


SALMON -- Smoke from wildfires burning in the Salmon-Challis National Forest and Bitterroot National Forest north of Salmon led to hazy conditions in the valley Tuesday after socking in the area Monday.

Area residents who experienced weeks of thick smoke during last summer's massive Mustang Complex fire near Salmon said the smell of smoke and blanket of hazy air triggered unpleasant memories.

"I thought, 'Not again,' " Salmon resident Mary Jensen said of Monday's smoky conditions. "I had a hard time breathing last summer because of the smoke, and I am worried we might see a return of it."

Others were taking it in stride.

"It's summer and it's where we live," said Angie Hurley, who was shopping with her daughter Tuesday.

Salmon-Challis National Forest Supervisor Chuck Mark said his agency is keenly aware of the effects that the fires and smoke are having on the local community, as well as visitors.

"We recognize the impacts that smoke, area and trail closures have on residents and recreationists," he said Tuesday in a statement. "Our objectives with fires during the 2013 fire season are to protect public and firefighter safety, and where applicable, keep the fire from impacting recreation sites, private and agency structures."

In Challis, smoke had reduced visibility Tuesday but most residents were not complaining about breathing difficulties, according to Anna Means, editor of the Challis Messenger.

The National Weather Service office in Pocatello has been issuing smoke forecasts this week based on blazes concentrated in the state's central mountains. Wildfires plume in the afternoons and send smoke drifting into the valleys after the wind dies down at night, meteorologist John Keyes said.

The smoke will continue for the short term, he said, but the potential for thunderstorms in coming days could drive the bad air out -- or worsen it.

"We could see some cleansing of the smoke if we get some rain, but winds could blow smoke in from other areas," Keyes said.

Post Register Managing Editor Rob Thornberry contributed to this report.