Heat and smoke choke northern Rockies as fire danger spikes

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Smoke obscures the air and dims the sun over a hillside burned by a recent wildfire, in Missoula, Mont., on Sunday, July 18, 2021. Extreme heat descended on parts of the U.S. northern Rocky Mountains on Monday, July 19 as authorities struggled to contain dozens of wildfires burning in a region parched by prolonged drought and blanketed with dangerous smoke. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

Matthew Brown Associated Press

BILLINGS — Extreme heat broke decades-old records as it descended Monday on parts of the northern Rocky Mountains, elevating the dangers posed by dozens of wildfires burning across a region parched by drought and blanketed with dangerous smoke.

Along the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana, the small city of Columbus reached a scorching 111 degrees Fahrenheit (44 Celsius). The temperature in Billings, Montana’s largest city, hit 106 F (41 C), topping a record set 61 years ago.

Authorities braced for new fires to ignite and existing ones to grow as the National Weather Service said the heat would linger through Thursday.

Such extreme conditions can result

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