Wildfire in Glacier National Park Prompts Closures, Evacuations

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Montana’s Glacier National Park is the latest national park to be impacted by wildfires this summer. The Howe Ridge Fire, burning near the west entrance of the park, has forced evacuations and closures, and has damaged structures, park officials say. This comes as Yosemite National Park officials plan to reopen Yosemite Valley Tuesday morning after a nearly three-week closure.

Glacier’s Howe Ridge Fire, which has burned more than 2,500 acres, started over the weekend, which saw record highs and a lightning storm. Crews were able to protect multiple buildings along North Lake McDonald Road but a number of structures were lost Sunday night, according to park officials. However, they weren’t able to provide exact details yet.

Howe Ridge Fure

The Howe Ridge Fire seen from across Lake McDonald on the night of August 12, roughly 24 hours after the fire was started by a lightning strike in an area previously burned in the 2003 Robert Fire. (Photo Credit: Glacier National Park)

Evacuations are in effect from the foot of Lake McDonald to Logan Pass. Closures include Avalanche and Sprague Creek Campgrounds, Lake McDonald Lodge Complex and North Lake McDonald Road. Around 60 personnel are responding to the fire. Today’s weather forecast calls for calm wind and a high near 74.

The Howe Ridge Fire is burning near the site of the 2003 Robert Fire. That year was the “most significant fire season” in the park’s history with around 136,000 acres burned within the park boundary.

This is the second year in a row that wildfire has impacted this area of the park. The historic Sperry Chalet—built in 1914—burned in a wildfire in August 2017. A fire has burned in Glacier National Park nearly every year since it was established in 1910, according to park officials.

Other sections of the national park remain open, including the east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road from Logan Pass to St. Mary. Check Glacier National Park’s website for a complete list of closures.

Each year, millions of people visit Glacier National Park. Total visitations topped 3.3 million in 2017. Last month, more than 910,000 people visited the park, with around 401,000 visitors coming through the west entrance of Glacier, which is near Lake McDonald.

Two other fires are burning within Glacier—the Heavens Sake Fire below Heavens Peak and a fire on Numa Ridge. Park officials expect fire season in Northwest Montana to last into September.

Airplanes dropping water on Howe Ridge Fire

Starting midday on August 12, several CL-215 (Canadian “superscooper”) airplanes flew for four hours, dropping thousands of gallons water from Lake McDonald onto the Howe Ridge Fire. (Photo Credit: Glacier National Park)

In California, Yosemite Valley closed on July 25 due to the Ferguson Fire, and much of Yosemite National Park had been closed indefinitely since August 5. Popular areas in the park, including the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, were impacted by the closure. In addition to the destruction, the wildfire, which has burned more than 96,000 acres since July 13, has affected people who had planned to visit the park and the local businesses who rely on the summer tourist season. In 2017, 4.3 million people visited Yosemite, making it the fifth most popular national park in 2017.

At least 106 active large wildfires are burning across 15 states, primarily in the West. That includes the nearly 350,000-acre Mendocino Complex Fire in California, the largest wildfire in the state’s history, which claimed the life of a Utah firefighter on Monday. To date, wildfires have burned 5,661,659 acres of land in 2018, around 10 percent less than the same time last year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Related: As California Wildfires Rage, Recreation is Put on Hold

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