Air quality in the Bitterroot Valley and the Missoula Valley dropped out of the "Good" category to "Moderate" and then to "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups." It was among many areas affected by long-distance smoke from massive fires in California. The Bitterroot National Forest has no large forest fires at this time and the closest fire to the west in Idaho is the 770-acre Shissler Fire, near Elk City. It is not the source of the huge amount of smoke that will affect the air quality at least through the weekend, according to fire officials. At this point, those with breathing issues should consider limiting outdoor activities. The latest figures, including the air monitor in Hamilton, are available on a Montana Department of Enivronmental Quality website. The nine lightning-caused fires on the Bitterroot National Forest this week are either out or contained, according to officials. The two fires in inaccessible areas up Sweathouse Creek are being suppressed by helicopter water drops. The Ravalli County Electric Cooperative is also allowing helicopters to use its pond near US 93.

By the way, the Bass Creek area trails were closed Saturday for a continuing search for Phillip Michael Stokey of Missoula, who has been missing since August 13 and was last seen in that area.

The largest fire in the area is the 9,000 acre Bear Creek Fire, southeast of the valley near Lemhi Pass on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Fire crews conducted a burnout along the 1883 road Friday, causing most of the increase in acreage, but also increasing the containment of the forest fire up to 50 percent. A red Flag warning for high winds in that area is expected to cause erratic fire behavior over the weekend. Please avoid the area due to heavy fire traffic. There are no evacuations at this time. The heavy smoke from California has also been evident in that area.

Sunset at Blodgett Canyon Friday. (Steve Fullerton, Townsquare Media)