GLACIER NATIONAL PARK – Crews are using a unique system to help protect historic structures still threatened by the Howe Ridge Fire that’s burning in Glacier National Park.
Firefighters are concerned about embers that can travel up to two miles. They took advantage of the cooler temperatures to put more structure protection in place around the historic Lake McDonald Lodge.
Crews are also bracing for another possible run by the Howe Ridge Fire that’s burning in the high country above Lake McDonald. On Wednesday, a "Rain for Rent" system was being installed around the lodge in order to wet fuels that could cause the structure to go up in flames.
"We’re wetting all of these fuels down. We’re increasing that moisture content so basically, they’re unavailable to burn," explained Kevin Smith, a structure protection specialist with the Northern Rockies Wildland Fire Management Team. "So we can have an ember land on it and because they’re wet basically they won’t ignite."
Water from Lake McDonald is being pumped to sprinklers paralleling the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road, which are wetting down large areas in case the blaze should reach the Lake McDonald Lodge area.
Crews are also laying thousands of additional feet of equipment to protect the lodge as well as the more than 100 other buildings in the complex.
"If there is dryer air and we have a moist situation here, the warmer air has to try [and] dry this moisture off and that has a cooling effect on the temperature and it also makes the humidity over time go down slowly," Smith explained.
Evacuations remain in effect on the west side of Glacier National Park.
The Howe Ridge Fire in Glacier National Park has burned an estimated 10,323 acres and was 10 percent contained as of Thursday. The lightning-sparked fire has destroyed numerous private homes and structures, but there have been no reported injuries. It is located along the northwest edge of Lake McDonald, and about nine miles from West Glacier.
On Wednesday, the CL-215 “Super Scoopers” dropped water on the southwest edge to slow growth as the fire approached the Inside North Fork Road. Helicopters dropped water on spots near Camas Creek and in the Rogers Lake area to slow fire spread.
Glacier National Park said in Thursday’s press release that the fire continues to burn in sparse fuels on the ridges of Mt. Stanton and south slopes of Mt. Vaught on the north end of the fire. A sprinkler system on the Upper McDonald Creek trails is in place to serve as a fire line, should the fire move downslope towards the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Crews are beginning work to protect the Trail of the Cedars and other facilities at the Avalanche Creek Campground in the event the fire reaches that area. The southwest edge of the fire continues to back towards the Inside North Fork Road.
Firefighters and heavy equipment are being used to remove dead trees and brush to prepare the road to serve as a fire break. Structure protection is in place in the Fish Creek Campground.
The forecast for Thursday is for warmer and drier conditions with gusty winds, and possible thunderstorms on Friday.
Evacuation orders are in place for the North McDonald Road (private residences and the Lake McDonald Ranger Station), Lake McDonald Lodge area (all businesses, employees, and private residences), private residences along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and Sprague Creek, Avalanche, and Fish Creek Campgrounds.
An Evacuation Warning is in place from the Quarter Circle Bridge Road north. This includes Apgar, the Grist Road, and all areas accessed from Quarter Circle Bridge Road. A separate evacuation warning is in place for all park areas north of the Bowman Lake Road junction with the Inside North Fork Road due to Whale Butte Fire activity, currently burning on Flathead National Forest land adjacent to the park boundary. An Evacuation Warning means people need to be ready to leave but are not being evacuated at this time.
Road and Trail Closures: The Going-to-the-Sun Road remains open between St. Mary and Logan Pass. It is closed between the foot of Lake McDonald (near Apgar) and Logan Pass. The North McDonald Road and Fish Creek Road are closed. The Inside North Fork Road is closed from Fish Creek to Logging Creek. Multiple trail closures are associated with this fire. Please see full trail closures on the park’s website: www.nps.gov/glac .
Fire Restrictions: Glacier National Park and most of western Montana are under Stage II Fire Restrictions. No campfires will be permitted in Glacier’s frontcountry or backcountry. Smoking is also prohibited except within an enclosed building, vehicle, developed recreation area, or barren area three feet in diameter. Propane stoves that have an on/off switch are permitted.