BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – Extreme heat swept over parts of the Rocky Mountains in the northern United States on Monday, as authorities struggled to contain dozens of wildfires in an area parched by prolonged drought and blanketed in ‘dangerous smoke.
Record temperatures were forecast for much of eastern Montana and parts of northern Wyoming.
Billings, Montana’s largest city, was expected to hit 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius), surpassing a record set 61 years ago. Glasgow was to reach 108 F (42 C).
The heat will persist until Thursday, the National Weather Service said.
Extreme conditions like these are often caused by a combination of unusual, random, short-term and natural weather conditions, accentuated by long-term human-caused climate change. Scientists have long warned that the weather will get wilder as the world warms. Climate change has made the West much hotter and drier over the past 30 years. Special calculations are needed to determine how much global warming is to blame, if any, for a single extreme weather event.
Red flag warnings for high fire risk have been issued throughout most of Montana and Idaho and parts of northeastern and western Wyoming. More than two dozen new fires broke out in all tri-states on Sunday, straining firefighting resources already strained by a high number of fires in early summer.
Thunderstorms that erupt Monday night will bring winds that could stoke forest fires and lightning that could spark new ones, according to the weather service.
Meanwhile, smoke continued to pour into the region’s skies from local fires and fires elsewhere in the West, causing unhealthy air quality in many towns in Montana on Monday morning – including Missoula, Anaconda, Butte, Great Falls, Cut Bank and Browning – and around McCall, Idaho, according to state and federal pollution monitoring data.
When the air quality is poor, people should stay indoors as much as possible and limit themselves to 30 minutes of light outdoor activity.
The air quality in Butte, Havre, Helena and Missoula was unhealthy for sensitive groups, which include children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses, such as asthma or cardiovascular disease .
A Montana firefighter was hospitalized in serious condition at the University of Utah Burn Center in Salt Lake City for burns he sustained when high winds suddenly shifted during a fire in the south-central Montana.
Dan Steffensen was injured while fighting a fire in the Harris Hill area near Joliet, which burned 4 square miles (10.5 square kilometers) of land. Steffensen was part of a two-person crew when the winds changed and he was overwhelmed by the rapidly moving fire, Red Lodge Fire Rescue said.
A Montana Highway Patrol soldier who helped rescue the crew from a downed firefighting helicopter last month was to receive the Bravery Award, the patrol’s highest honor, on Monday.
Horsewoman Amanda Villa was setting up a roadblock for a fire on June 15 when she saw a Department of Natural Resources and Conservation helicopter make a hard landing near US Highway 12 east of Townsend due to strong winds. Villa and a Broadwater County Sheriff’s Deputy responded to help.
A passenger who was able to exit the helicopter told Villa that four other people were inside. She and the deputy helped the remaining passengers to safety as the helicopter and nearby grass burned.
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