Complex wildfire near Powell causes air quality concerns for local residents

POWELL, ID - A complex wildfire near Powell concerns local residents.

"The smoke yesterday was probably the worst I'd seen it in maybe fifteen years, " said Three Rivers Resort and Rafting owner Lara Smith.

The Powell SBW Complex Wildfire had spread to 31,600 acres as of Monday morning with zero percent containment. The fire, caused by multiple lightening strikes on late Friday afternoon, is made up of three large fires and several smaller fires in the shape of an arc near Powell.

Smith said she'd never seen the air quality as bad as it was on Friday.

"If you've been up here to Three Rivers before you know we're at the confluence of the Lochsa, Selway and Clearwater rivers, you could not see across the confluence to the other side," said Smith.

According to Inciweb, an incident information system website, the smoke filled low lying areas in the Lochsa Valley this weekend because of the Powell SBW Complex and the McGuire Complex fire west of Dixie, Idaho.

"A lot of restrictions on being able to pull over with your vehicles. They don't want you pulling over.," said Smith.

"The last few days have been really, really smokey," said
Lochsa Lodge server Angela Hansleben. "It's like the fire is in our backyard, it's been so smokey."

Incident Commander of the Northern Rockies Wildland Fire Management Team Diane Hutton said while the smoke concerns local residents, it's actually helping the fire teams. Because the smoke isn't allowing as much oxygen to reach the fires, it moderates the fire behavior.

Server Angela Hansleben of the Lochsa Lodge near Lolo Pass said although there was a potential fear that the fire could have forced an evacuation, it wasn't a large concern for her.

"With the wind you never know what's going to happen. It could come this way but you never know. I'm not too worried about it, I think they'll let us know with plenty of time if there's any need to worry," said Hansleben.

Favorable conditions and efforts of firefighters averted any need for an evacuation over the weekend. Hutton said with zero percent containment the potential for evacuating local residents is not completely eliminated but is a remote possibility. The 171 person crew is working with limited visibility in difficult terrain as they try to execute burnout plans in the area. Inciweb reports said they are continuing to work on a structure protection plan for the Powell and Lochsa areas as well.

As of Monday afternoon, the potential for the fire to grow was at a medium alert level.