KALISPELL, MONTANA – Flames roared unchecked through heavy timber for a third day in Montana’s Glacier National Park, where the main road has been closed through the eastern half of the park, along with two campgrounds, during its busiest time of year.
The first major wildfire to hit Glacier in nearly a decade has charred roughly 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) since igniting on Tuesday just east of the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, officials said, and has defied firefighters’ attempts to contain it.
A group of hikers initially feared to have been in harm’s way returned safely, and no injuries have been reported, though one historic log cabin was lost, the National Park Service said.
A day after the wind-driven blaze doubled in size, firefighting resources were beefed up on Thursday, with about 200 ground personnel and six water-dropping helicopters assigned to battle the flames, according to fire management spokeswoman Katelyn Liming.
The cause of the blaze is unknown, she said.
The fire’s impact was limited so far to the eastern side of the park. The picturesque Going-to-the-Sun Road, which bisects Glacier, remained shut down for about 20 miles (32 km) from the main entrance to the park’s center.
The Rising Sun Campground and nearby motor inn were closed to the public, as well as the St. Mary Campground and several trails, including much of the popular Highline Trail.
The rest of the park, occupying more than 1 million acres (400,000 hectares) in northwestern Montana and straddling the Canadian border, remained open to the public.
Authorities also evacuated homes along the banks of Lower St. Mary Lake just outside the park as a precaution.
Liming said the last major wildfire in Glacier came in 2006, when flames scorched more than 34,000 acres (14,000 hectares) of the park and Blackfeet tribal land.
The park, named for the glaciers that sculpted its landscape millions of years ago and have been rapidly receding, draws more than 2 million visitors a year, with July accounting for the biggest monthly share of park admissions.
Liming said she was unable quantify the latest fire’s impact on visitation. “There are still lots of people here,” she said.
Wildfires in recent weeks have raged across several states in the drought-parched U.S. West.
Those posing an immediate threat to populated areas on Thursday included a 6,900-acre (2,800-hectare) blaze about 75 miles (120 km) north of San Francisco that prompted the evacuation of 200 homes and closed a stretch of a nearby highway. At least one building was destroyed.
In southeastern Washington state, about 120 residents were under evacuation orders for the fourth day as a 5,580-acre (2,260-hectare) wildfire threatened a watershed that supplies drinking water to the farming and college town of Walla Walla. One home has been destroyed since the blaze erupted in a wheat field on Monday.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.