WEST GLACIER – The fast-growing Howe Ridge fire that forced evacuations at Glacier National Park on Sunday has destroyed some structures on the north end of Lake McDonald.
Park spokeswoman Lauren Alley says details are not available at this time about the number or type of structures. She also noted that a Flathead County structural fire task force provided a significant response.
The rapid growth and extreme fire behavior prompted very rapid evacuations last night. Alley says that between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. roughly 87 campsites, 82 rooms at the Lake McDonald Lodge, and other visitors, employees and local residents were evacuated from the Avalanche Campground, North Lake McDonald Road, the Lake McDonald Lodge Complex and private residences along the Going-to-the-Sun Road
The Sprague Creek Campground’s 25 campsites are being evacuated on Monday.
The evacuations were ordered when the fire column shifted and began spotting and moving over the ridge. A fire spot was found as far away as the opposite side of Stanton Mountain. Park spokeswoman Lauren Alley says fire behavior last night was extreme with tree torching, crown runs, wind-driven fire and fire spots of up to ½ mile away occurred for several hours.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed between the foot of Lake McDonald and Logan Pass. The road remains open between St. Mary and Logan Pass. Most other areas of the park are open as well.
All visitor services at Lake McDonald Lodge are closed and multiple trails have been closed due to the Howe Ridge fire including The Loop trail. Visitors with cars currently parked at The Loop will be directed to drive out of the park via St. Mary.
Alley says that local fire crews have been arriving over the last 24 hours in a limited capacity following the fire and Canadian “super scoopers” were assigned to the Howe Ridge Fire on Sunday.
However, Alley says those efforts were not enough to stop the blaze from growing as the planes were not able to fly very close to the fire to drop water due to high winds.
Prior to the extreme fire activity yesterday, the park in partnership with the Flathead National Forest ordered a Type I Incident Management Team to manage the Howe Ridge Fire, the Paola Creek Fire, and the Coal Creek Fire. That order is still in place, according to Alley.
There is currently spotting on the Trout Lake side of Stanton Mountain. Conditions are very dry across the park and while Alley says fire behavior calmed on Monday morning, it may pick up later in the day.
Firefighters are evaluating what areas of the fire are possible to contain with resources on hand and plan to establish trigger points that would prompt additional evacuations or warnings for other areas in the park.
Alley added that suppression operations also continue at Numa Ridge and on the Heavens Sake Fire.
Glacier National Park will enact Stage II Fire Restrictions at 12:01 am. on Tuesday meaning that no campfires will be permitted. Additionally, smoking will be 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.
Alley says there is no updated acreage information for the fire at this time and that local resident access into the fire closure area is not anticipated to occur on Monday.
Glacier National Park has established a Fire Information Line with updated recorded information at (406) 888-7077.