A quiet year, then smoke

Canada fires-500Wildfire chartAug. 5, 2014

The American West is enjoying the quietest fire year in at least a decade. 

But smoke and fire is still plaguing the region – and stretching across the continent

Daily Climate staff report

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BOZEMAN, Mont. – Ask anyone here how their summer has been, and the conversation quickly turns – after talk about fishing and mountain trips – to something missing until Sunday:


The Northern Rockies have been remarkably free of wildfire smoke this year, contributing to a delightful summer for the region. Vistas have been clear, the breathing easier, the skies blue.

That all changed here Sunday, when smoke from several fires in northern California rolled into town. The mountains disappeared, and the skies clouded over.

The Rocky Mountains and Alaska have enjoyed a quiet fire season this year, but there are exceptions. Fire season never really ended in California last year, and Washington, Oregon and California have all declared states of emergency as dozens of fires blaze across an unusually dry West Coast.

Western Canada to Greenland

Fire season still has several months left, especially in drought-stricken California, and few big fires can sully air quality across a vast region. Satellite images from July show the smoke from several large fires in Canada's Northwest Territories billowing clear across to Toronto and then on over Greenland.

Still, comparing acres burned through Aug. 4 for each of the past 10 years, 2014 is well below the norm, with just 1.7 million acres burned to date. The average for the other nine years is 4.4 million, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In a world where scientists expect fires to get bigger and brawnier as North America dries out and warms up, many in Bozeman and throughout Rockies feel fortunate to have made it this far into the summer with clean, clear, smoke-free air.And a few big fires can sully air quality across a vast region. 

The Daily Climate is a news service covering energy, the environment and climate change.

Satellite image of North American on July 16, 2014 courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory. Map data and image from the National Interagency Fire Center.

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