"Pineapple Express" Spells End to Western Fires
October 11, 2012
By Eric Barker
So say weather forecasters at the Northern Rockies Coordination Center, the agency that oversees wildland firefighting in northern Idaho, Montana and the western half of the Dakotas. A mass of moist, warm air from the central Pacific known as a pineapple express will pound the region with a series of wetting rainstorms starting Saturday and lasting through Tuesday.
"It`s looking pretty good and there is a high confidence in it," said meteorologist Bryan Henry at Missoula, Mont. "It`s going to be a series of surges. If the first two don`t get us, the third will, and if the third doesn`t the fourth will. I like the odds of that."
Today will continue to be smoky, but Henry said winds should cleanse the air by Friday afternoon. Those winds will be followed by weekend rains that will bring welcome relief to weary firefighters, some of whom have been on the front lines for months.
"Fire season began in earnest back in April and May and it`s been going since," Henry said. "The crews are quite exhausted at this point but they are chugging along."
The predicted storms have been showing up in computer models for more than a week. But Henry said he and his colleagues initially tried to keep expectations low out of fear of giving the tired crews false hope.
"We were trying to play it down a little bit until we were as close to certain as we could be before we dove in and ran with it," he said.
The earliest fires of the 2012 season started in the desert southwest where they burned with intense heat. Things started late in the Northern Rockies but the fires have also lasted longer than usual.
"We will have had teams out for 110 consecutive days, which is extraordinarily long," Henry said. "I believe that is double the normal number."
To date, fires have burned 1.4 million acres in the region and 8.6 million nationally.
The McGuire Fire near Dixie has burned 43,500 acres, has cost $24 million to fight and is now 50 percent contained. The Sheep Fire near Lucille has burned 48,500 acres, has cost $16.7 million and is 65 percent contained. The Powell SBW Complex burning in and around the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness Area near Powell has burned 66,000 acres.
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