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Contact: Lauren Alley, 406-888-5838
West Glacier, MT – Rapid growth and extreme fire behavior on the Howe Ridge Fire prompted very rapid evacuations last night. Between 8 PM and 10 PM the park estimates that roughly 87 campsites, 82 rooms at the Lake McDonald Lodge, and other visitors, employees, and local residents were evacuated from the following areas:
· Avalanche Campground
· North Lake McDonald Road (private residences and the Lake McDonald Ranger Station)
· Lake McDonald Lodge Complex (all businesses, employees, and private residences)
· Private residences along the Going-to-the-Sun Road
Sprague Creek campground is being evacuated today. It has 25 campsites.
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. Fire behavior last night was extreme. Tree torching, crown runs, wind driven fire, and fire spots up to ½ mile away occurred for multiple hours.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed between the foot of Lake McDonald (near Apgar) and Logan Pass. The road remains open between St. Mary and Logan Pass. Most other areas of the park are open as well.
Multiple trail closures are associated with this fire, including The Loop trail. Please see full trail closures on the park’s website. Visitors with cars currently parked at The Loop will be directed to drive out of the park via St. Mary.
Fire managers indicate that structures on the north end of Lake McDonald were lost. Details are not available at this time about the number or type of structures. A Flathead County structural fire task force provided a significant response.
All visitor services at Lake McDonald Lodge are closed.
The park has established a Fire Information Line with updated recorded information: 406-888-7077. An Inciweb page for this fire is expected to be established later today. Maps are expected in the next few days.
Local fire resources from other agencies have been arriving over the last 24 hours in a limited capacity following this fire start on Saturday night. Canadian “super scoopers” were assigned to the Howe Ridge Fire yesterday for a four hour cycle. Those efforts were not effective in controlling fire growth. The planes were not able to fly very close to the fire to drop water due to high winds. The super scoopers are most effective when they can fly low and drop water directly on a fire.
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.
There is currently spotting on the Trout Lake side of Stanton Mountain. Conditions are very dry across the park. Fire behavior calmed this morning, but may pick up later today.
The top fire priority today is firefighter and visitor safety. Ground firefighters are evaluating what areas of the fire are possible to contain with resources on hand. They will also establish trigger points that would prompt additional evacuations or warnings for other areas in the park. Suppression operations also continue at Numa Ridge and on the Heavens Sake Fire.
Effective 12 a.m. tonight, the park will enter Stage II Fire Restrictions. No campfires will be permitted in the frontcountry or backcountry. Smoking is 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 are permitted.
The park does not have updated acreage information for the fire at this time. Media access and local resident access into the fire closure area is not anticipated today.