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Smokey skies blanket Wyoming

Looking out on the Wyoming Range in Pinedale. The range is barely visible due to smoke that came from regional wildfires.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
Looking out on the Wyoming Range in Pinedale. The range is barely visible due to smoke that came from regional wildfires.

Over the last few days, much of Wyoming has been blanketed with smokey skies from regional fires.

In some places like Pinedale and Lander, the smoke is so bad one can barley see the mountains. There is even an air quality alert for portions of southern and central Wyoming.

Lance VandenBoogart, a warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Riverton, said much of the smoke is blowing in from wildfires in Idaho and Montana.

“We've been in a weather pattern recently where the air is fairly stagnant, a high pressure system, the air doesn't move around a lot,” he said. “We haven't had a lot of cold fronts to kind of clean out the air that has been sitting around.”

VandenBoogart said colder weather will likely come later this week, temporarily pushing out the smoke. But he added the smoke will likely return until regional fires are put out and there is heavier rainfall.

“I would be hesitant to say, ‘Hey don't worry about smoke anymore after this cold front,’” he said. “It's probably going to come back, but at least the air that we're currently kind of sitting in, that air is going to move off to the east and things will likely improve at least for a little bit.”

Wildfires in Idaho and Montana are both raging. The largest fire in Idaho is the Moose Fire, which is at more than 107,000 acres in size and has been burning since mid-July. The Ross Fork Fire in the Sawtooth National Forest is Idaho’s second largest fire at nearly 29,000 acres, and it is rapidly spreading. It has caused widespread evacuations and road closures in the area. In Montana, the largest wildfire is the Trail Ridge fire at 3,028 acres, located in the southwest part of the state.

Meanwhile in Wyoming, the wildfire season has been quite tame. The largest fire was the Fish Fire near Sundance at 6,793 acres, however, it is considered contained as of late August. VandenBoogart said a relatively wet summer has led to less fires.

“So this year, a lot of the West has had what we call monsoonal moisture, which would be moisture coming from the Pacific Ocean,” he said. “And it's led to widespread showers and thunderstorms at certain times during the summer. So, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, a lot of those places, have less active fires than they would have otherwise.”

Most recently, a wildfire broke out near Lander on Tuesday, Sept. 6. The Washakie Fire is 300 acres in size and is considered 0 percent contained as of publication.

VandenBoogart warns that other larger fires could easily ignite in the state, as grasses have dried out and any open flames, such as campfires, could easily spread.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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