Cause of Red Eagle Fire Undetermined

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Date: February 2, 2007
Contact: Melissa Wilson, 406 888-7895

WEST GLACIER, MONT. – Officials at Glacier National Park report that, pending any new information, the cause of the Red Eagle Fire is undetermined. The investigative team could not rule out the possibility that the fire could have been caused by human activity nor could it rule out the possibility that the fire was caused by natural means such as lightning. There was no conclusive evidence discovered during the investigation to allow a final determination of cause to be made.

Montana’s State Fire Marshal Allen Lorenz wrote in his conclusion, "Human cause cannot be ruled out, although no signs of human activity were found. Lightning cannot be ruled out because of indications of previous lightning strikes that are evident in the area."

Lorenz was assisted in the investigation by deputy fire marshals, an FBI special agent, a BIA special agent, and National Park Service (NPS) investigators. Additionally, four special agents from the NPS and one park ranger investigator located and interviewed witnesses in eighteen states, traveled over eleven thousand miles, and dedicated approximately eight hundred hours to the investigation.

Park Superintendent Mick Holm commented, "We appreciate the hard work and dedication of this interagency team of investigators who attempted to determine the cause and origin of the Red Eagle Fire. We also remain grateful to all those who spent many long, arduous hours working to suppress this fire."

The general area of the fire’s origin was identified as a two to three acre area located approximately one half mile south/southwest of the head of Red Eagle Lake, and approximately one half mile from the nearest approved campground. Team members searched this area for signs of the fire’s cause, reviewed lightning activity maps spanning the weeks prior to the fire, and interviewed witnesses. Activity maps and witness statements both confirm that lightning activity occurred within the general area during a passing thunderstorm three and a half days before the first report of fire, but the maps do not place any strikes within the fire origin. Witnesses indicate that they heard thunder and saw lightning strikes an estimated one quarter to one half mile from the Red Eagle Lake Head campground. Two trees were found and identified as having been struck by lightning. (One was subsequently determined to be an old unrelated lightning strike.) Lightning activity maps are rated as 80 percent accurate as to detection, so there is a 20 percent chance that a strike was not recorded. These circumstances illustrate why investigators cannot eliminate natural means as causing the fire. No other physical evidence was found.

A 20 by 20 foot area near the east side of the Red Eagle Lake Head campground was originally thought to be the area of origin for the fire. However, the investigation revealed, based upon witness and photographic evidence, that this location was actually the origin of a spot fire started by embers blown into the area as the fire gained intensity.

Investigators twice interviewed two groups who camped in the Red Eagle Lake Head campground the evening before the fire was reported. All individuals cooperated during the interviews. These interviews did not reveal any activity that could have resulted in the accidental start of a fire.

Nowhere during the entire investigation and interview process was there any indication of anyone witnessing inappropriate behavior by any other individual that would have given the investigators cause to believe that someone was responsible for starting the fire.

The Red Eagle Fire burned over 34,000 acres in Glacier National Park and on Blackfeet Tribal Land. The fire was first reported at approximately 1 pm on July 28, 2006.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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