Howe Ridge, Waterton fires remain active, yet stable

August 25, 2018

Both fires burning in Glacier National Park grew Friday as high winds arrived with a low pressure system.

Neither made big runs, however, as fire protection efforts seemed to have the desired effect, according to park officials.

The Howe Ridge Fire was listed at 11,519 acres Saturday, up from 10,802. The Boundary Fire grew 600 acres to 1,800, but it remained on the U.S. side in Glacier.

Information from the park indicated the Howe Ridge Fire featured uphill runs, group tree torching and short-range spotting that created a smoke column visible from a distance.

At the south end of the perimeter, the fire continued to back toward the Inside North Fork Road with isolated torching in stands of lodgepole pine. Helicopters and the CL-215 “Super Scoopers” were busy dropping water to slow its growth. Removal of dead trees and brush along the Inside North Fork continued, preparing the road to serve as a fire break. Structure protection was in place in the Fish Creek Campground.

The north end of the fire was also active, with uphill runs, group torching and short range spotting on the lower slopes below Mount Vaught. The fire was not spreading along McDonald Creek. Helicopter bucket drops were used to slow fire spread toward the Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor.

Hoses and sprinklers were in place to protect the Trail of the Cedars and other facilities at the Avalanche Creek Campground, in case the fire reached that area.

Evacuation orders remained in place for the North McDonald Road, Lake McDonald Lodge area (including all businesses, employees and private residences), private residences along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and the Sprague Creek, Avalanche and Fish Creek campgrounds.

An evacuation warning was in place heading north from the Quarter Circle Bridge Road. This included Apgar, the Grist Road and all areas accessed from Quarter Circle Bridge Road. A separate evacuation warning was 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, which burned Saturday 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.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road remained closed Saturday between the foot of Lake McDonald near Apgar and Logan Pass, but it was open between St. Mary and Logan Pass. The North McDonald Road and Fish Creek Road were closed. The Inside North Fork Road was closed from Fish Creek to Logging Creek.

Multiple trail closures were associated with this fire; for a complete list, visit the park’s website, www.nps.gov/glac.

Stage 2 fire restrictions remained in place Saturday for Glacier National Park and most of western Montana. No campfires were permitted in Glacier’s frontcountry or backcountry. Smoking was 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 were permitted.

The Boundary Creek Fire spread rapidly after its start Thursday evening, but it remained in Glacier and hadn’t crossed into Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada.

The fire was located in the Boundary Creek drainage, about one mile west of Upper Waterton Lake. Parks Canada. The National Park Service deployed aerial initial attack resources, but extreme fire behavior and rapid fire growth prevented aerial suppression actions. Wind and smoke prevented aviation operations Friday.

Parks Canada and Glacier National Park staff cleared hikers from backcountry areas and evacuated the Waterton River Backcountry Campground on Thursday. :

Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park were closely coordinating efforts. Glacier had a crew of 24 firefighters working at Goat Haunt to complete preventative structure protection for the 14 buildings.

All trails originating at Goat Haunt were closed Saturday. Boat tours operated by Waterton Shoreline Cruise Company continued on Waterton Lake, but cruises were not landing at Goat Haunt.

The weather forecast indicated that a cooler and wetter weather system would move through the area Sunday night and Monday, with below-normal temperatures, rain and snow above 8,000 feet. Though the weather change could slow fire spread, fire managers did not expect the precipitation to extinguish the fire.

For additional details about trail status in Glacier National Park, visit https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/conditions.htm.

In the Flathead National Forest, the Paola Ridge Fire grew from 598 acres to 645 while Whale Butte and Coal Ridge remained where they were Friday.

In the Kootenai National Forest, the Gold Hill Fire grew from 2,800 acres to 3,176, but fire crews reported a productive day as they completed line prep along Noisy Creek Road from Highway 68 east to the Stemson Property line and continued to prep and reinforce containment lines on Blue Creek Road toward the east.

Crews planned to continue structure assessment and preparation along Highway 68 Saturday with prep and to improve both Noisy Creek Road and Blue Creek Road through Stemson Property to the east. Heavy equipment would continue to establish a contingency line along the 336 Road.

As a precautionary measure, crews planned to begin wrapping a warming cabin and the Big Creek Baldy lookout. Both structures will be completely covered with an aluminized heat-shielding material which helps to reflect radiant heat.

Most of Glacier National Park, the Flathead National Forest and tourism opportunities throughout northwest Montana were open and operating as usual Saturday.

A temporary flight restriction was in effect in the fire area.

According to information from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Bureau, air quality remained unhealthy in northwest Montana due to a combination of local fires and transported smoke from the Pacific Northwest.

Air quality was expected to remain unhealthy in northwest Montana through at least Sunday morning. Elsewhere, air quality was expected to range from good to unhealthy for sensitive groups. Conditions were expected to improve Sunday.

By Monday afternoon, the Bureau indicated air quality should be good to moderate in most locations, including northwest Montana.

Keep track of hourly concentrations at TodaysAir.mt.gov. The smoke outlook for northwest Montana is available at: https://wildlandfiresmoke.net/outlooks/NWMontana.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker can be reached at (406) 758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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