Managers: Glacier fire has ecological benefits

August 24, 2018

As the Howe Ridge Fire continues to burn in Glacier National Park, the blaze’s slow, but steady progression over the past few days is doing some good from an ecological standpoint, fire managers told a crowd in West Glacier Wednesday night.

The fire over the past few days has been burning toward the west, growling past Howe Lake in the Robert Fire burn of 2003. It is within sight of the Inside North Fork Road. Further north toward Camas Creek, the fire is burning in the old 2001 Moose Fire burn.

Crews are hoping to hold the fire at the Inside Road. They’ll also use Camas Creek to the north as a natural fire break said operations coordinator Rocky Gilbert of John Pierson’s Type I management team.

The fire is burning in thick lodgepole and downed timber left behind from the Robert Fire. Gilbert described it as a burning through a pile of firewood.

“It’s doing a lot of good,” he said. “It will make it easier for people and animals to get around in the future.”

This is the first fire to re-burn in Glacier in such a short time span. Re-burns in wilderness areas like the Bob Marshall are not uncommon.

On the east end of the fire, crews used aerial ignition to make the fire line straight, which is easier to fight than if it had fingers, Gilbert said. He said the goal is to keep the fire from crossing the Going-to-the-Sun Road and to preserve the Trail of the Cedars and the Park’s ancient cedar groves around it.

Having said that, if the fire does progress into the cedar-hemlock forests to the north, firefighters will be pulled out to the McDonald Creek Trail - the dense canopy of the forest is just too dangerous, he noted. A sprinkler system is set up on the trail. The fire also has the potential to slop back over Mount Vaught and down into the Trout Lake drainage again.

Crews have put up hose lays near Fish Creek and have also wrapped two historic cabins in the North Fork near Camas Creek and Howe Lake.

They tried to set a burnout to clean up the line near the Inside Road, but Gilbert said it didn’t want to burn.

Yesterday, super scooper airplanes were dropping water on the edge of the blaze near the Inside Road and helicopters hit hot spots near Rogers Lake and in the Camas drainage.

The Paola Ridge Fire near Essex has moved downslope toward the railroad, where firefighters have cut a fuel break. They’ve also beefed up structure protection in the Paola area.

There’s concern that Paola could slop over Paola Ridge to the south.

Gilbert told the crowd that he felt crews had adequate resources and noted that more Hot Shot crews were on the way.

The Howe Ridge Fire is now listed at 10,323 acres. Paola Ridge is listed at 578 acres. The Whale Butte Fire hasn’t done much up the North Fork. To the west it’s been slowed by Whale Creek and to the east, it’s slowed by an old logging road.

Today the fires could see breezy west winds, which should increase fire activity and Friday should see more wind, with a chance of thunderstorms. Forecasters are calling for rain and much cooler temperatures by Monday, with a chance of snow in higher elevations.

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