Cost to fight Glacier fire tops $5 million

August 30, 2018

The cost to fight the Howe Ridge Fire in Glacier National Park has climbed to about $5.6 million, according to fire officials.

It was listed at 12,460 acres on Wednesday, but a cool and overcast weather pattern continued to moderate activity. The fire was backing and creeping in isolated areas near Camas Creek and smoldering in the northern perimeter.

Activity was expected to increase with a warmer, drying weather pattern, but no major fire growth was expected.

The Howe Ridge Fire was last reported to be about 150 feet from the Going-to-the-Sun Road at its closest point. On the west end, it’s about 100 feet from the Inside North Fork Road. The Sun Road remained closed from the foot of Lake McDonald to Logan Pass. The scenic highway was open on the park’s east side from St. Mary to Logan Pass.

John Pierson’s Type I team will transition out this week and will be replaced by the Northern Rockies Type I team.

The fire had five helicopters available Wednesday.

Park superintendent Jeff Mow gave further insight into the fire’s evolution on the night of Aug. 11 when the fire was started by lightning along Lake McDonald. Mow told the Hungry Horse News that the fire was first called in about 7:20 p.m. He said a helicopter was requested, but he was told none was available.

That same day, the Bear Springs Fire, according to a press release by the Montana Department of Conservation and Resources, was burning near Marion. Two CL-215 “super scooper” aircraft and a Type 2 helicopter from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation worked for several hours to slow fire growth.

The next day, about 11:15 a.m., the same CL-215 aircraft were deployed on the Howe Ridge Fire. They dropped water on the blaze about every four minutes and they each hold at least 1,000 gallons of water.

Over the course of an hour, that would amount to 30,000 gallons of water per hour and they were on the fire until at least 2:15 p.m. They had little impact on the blaze.

West Glacier had seen record heat just prior to the fire, reaching 101 degrees on Aug. 10 and most of July was hot and dry, with little rain.

In addition, a firefighting crew did try to get to the fire Aug. 11 by foot, but couldn’t make it through the thick downed timber and lodgepole pine the fire was burning in.

They attempted to attack the fire the next day as well, but the flame lengths by then were 10 feet and the trees and downed timber from the previous Robert Fire of 2003 made it too dangerous, Chief Ranger Paul Austin has said previously.

Private landowners, in a meeting with Mow and Austin shortly after the fire, were critical of the park’s initial response, though they were appreciative of the efforts of firefighters in their attempts to save homes. One person suggested at that meeting that the park get its own helicopter. Mow agreed.

Parks Canada has its own helicopters.

On the Boundary Fire in northeast Glacier Park, the cool and wet weather slowed fire activity, with some interior burning and moderate fire activity on the east side. A drying, warmer weather pattern was forecasted for the area Wednesday, with the potential for winds up to 40 miles per hour on ridges. Fire managers were monitoring fire activity and planned to look at ways to reinforce trails to serve as fire breaks. Structure protection remained in place at Goat Haunt.

All trails originating at Goat Haunt remain closed. Boat tours operated by Waterton Shoreline Cruise Company were landing at Goat Haunt. Visitors were limited to the boat dock pavilion and restroom area.

On the Flathead National Forest, the Whale Butte Fire has done little since wet weather moved through, which led Flathead County Sheriff Curry to rescind the evacuation warning for a small number of residents north of Polebridge. The fire was at 489 acres with 39 percent contained.

Any evacuation warnings or orders will be coordinated through the Flathead County Sheriff’s office.

The Paola Ridge Fire continued to burn near Essex, but fire activity was minimal due to cooler temperatures and light rain in area that reduced fire behavior to smoldering. It was listed at 712 acres with 45 percent contained.

In the Kootenai National Forest, the Gold Hill Fire was at 4,046 acres with 1 percent contained.

Smoke impacts were expected to stay mild over the next few days, with occasional light smoke moving over northern Montana, the state Department of Environmental Quality reported.

Keep track of the air quality at TodaysAir.mt.gov.

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

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