Reynolds Creek Fire on Going to the Sun Road in Glacier NP

(UPDATE at 8:30 a.m. MT, July 28, 2015)

Reynolds Creek Fire
Undated NPS photo of the Reynolds Creek Fire, Glacier National Park.

The Reynolds Creek Fire in Glacier National Park in northwest Montana has been relatively quiet recently due to occasional rain. Heavy thundershowers on Monday kept helicopters on the ground for part of the day, but transported cargo when conditions permitted.

Firefighters are removing hazardous trees along Going-to-the-Sun Road which remains closed. Other areas closed include Logan Pass, the Rising Sun Motor Inn, and the Rising Sun Campground.


(UPDATE at 11:45 a.m. MT, July 26, 2015)

Skycrane helicopter Reynolds Fire
A Skycrane helicopter drops on the Reynolds Fire. Undated photo from InciWeb.

For the last two days, firefighters, aided by the weather, have been able to minimize any additional growth of the Reynolds Creek Fire burning in Glacier National Park in northwest Montana.

On Saturday crews took advantage of cooler temperatures to build new fireline and reinforce other lines along the St. Mary River, and extinguished spot fires near the southwest edge of the fire. Firefighters began laying hose along firelines to assist with mopup from Rising Sun to the northeast end of the fire.

Fireline explosives will be used Sunday to build fireline in an avalanche chute containing heavy brush and downed logs. The sound of the blast will be audible in the town of St. Mary, and is expected in the early afternoon.

The explosive firefighters use is about 1¼ inches in diameter and 50 feet long; it looks like a long strand of sausage links. The rope-like material is filled with a gel-like PETN material that explodes at 22,000 feet per second after being ignited with one detonation cap. Since the material comes in 50-foot sections, it can be laid out as far as a crew wants to build fire line. It is stored on spools which allow it to be unrolled as firefighters walk over the desired location for the fireline.

The Incident Management Team, led by Incident Commander Greg Poncin, reports that the fire has burned 3,158 acres.

In addition to blowing things up, Sunday personnel on the fire will also continue direct attack supported by aircraft, and expect to be dropping snags and clearing debris near the Going-to-the-Sun Road.


(UPDATE at 9:21 a.m. MT, July 25, 2015)

The Reynolds Creek Fire not long after it started on July 21, 2015. Photo by park volunteer Pam Smith.
The Reynolds Creek Fire not long after it started on July 21, 2015. Photo by park volunteer Pam Smith.

The Reynolds Creek Fire in Glacier National Park has not spread a great deal over the last two days. More accurate mapping shows that it has burned about 3,100 acres. Examples of some of these more accurate maps are below. Click on them to see larger versions.

Reynolds Creek Fire map 3-d
3-D map of the Reynolds Creek Fire, 10 p.m. July 24, 2015.

Reynolds Creek Fire map
Map of the Reynolds Creek Fire, July 24, 2015. Map by IMT.
Reynolds Creek Fire map
Satellite image of the Reynolds Creek Fire, using false color to highlight the vegetation and the area burned. This is undated but it must have been around July 22 or 23.

(UPDATED at 3:40 p.m. MT, July 24, 2015)

More information has been made available by the Incident Management Team working on the Reynolds Creek Fire in Glacier National Park in northwest Montana.

On Thursday an inversion over the fire kept it smoked in and fairly calm in the morning; however, by mid-day gusty, westerly winds fanned the fire, spurring some short crown runs and a small spot fire south of St. Mary River, near the southwest end of St. Mary Lake.

Meteorologists predict that Friday will bring continued gusty, west winds and low relative humidity, which could likely push the fire to the north and east. Those weather conditions could produce extreme fire behavior, including spot fires and fast-moving crown fire.

(UPDATED at 9:03 a.m. MT, July 24, 2015)

Reynolds Fire map
This is an estimated, unofficial, preliminary, rough map of the perimeter of the Reynolds Creek Fire in Glacier National Park, looking northeast, July 23, 2015. The community of St Mary can be seen in the distance on Highway 89.

Not much additional information is available about the Reynolds Creek Fire in Glacier National Park on Going-To-the-Sun-Road three air miles southwest of St Mary, Montana. The MODIS satellite has not detected much heat in the last 36 hours and the Park and the Type 3 Incident Management Team are not releasing much information as Greg Poncin’s Type 1 IMT transitions into the organization.

The time between teams is frequently a dark period, as the previous team does not want to step on the incoming team, which does not have much information since they are new to the scene. Theoretically there is no gap since they usually overlap for a day or so, but in actuality, there is, and it has sometimes led to safety issues out on the fireline.

In spite of the dark period, we were able to determine that the Reynolds Creek Fire has burned down near the shore of St Mary Lake in several places and has spread 7.5 miles to the northeast, in some places on both sides of Going-To-the-Sun-Road. The southwest edge of the fire has crossed to the southeast side of the drainage, but so far firefighters have been able to prevent it from becoming established on the very steep slopes on that side.

As it moves up into the higher elevations it tends to run out of fuel at 6,000 to 7,000 feet. However there is three miles of fairly continuous fuel between the northeastern edge of the fire and the community of St Mary on Highway 89.


(UPDATED at 5:19 p.m. MT, July 23, 2015)

Late in the day on Wednesday a spokesperson from Glacier National Park reported that the Reynolds Fire on the east side of the park on Going-to-the-Sun-Road had grown to 4,000 acres. They explained that due to windy conditions and extreme fire behavior, Wednesday’s suppression actions were limited to aerial water drops and some on-the-ground crew work.

One structure has burned in the fire, the historic Baring Creek Cabin. No other structures have burned and no injuries have been reported.

A Type 3 Incident Management Team has been running the fire, recently assisted by a Type 2 IMT. Greg Poncin’s Type 1 IMT will assume command of the fire at 10 p.m. Thursday.

Wednesday evening someone at Glacier National Park hosted two live broadcasts on Periscope. The way we understand this, is that it is all done on a smart phone. Live video from the phone is sent to the internet where it can be seen by others.

Below is a screen shot from one of the broadcasts.Periscope Glacier NP 7-23-2015

The first broadcast lasted about 10 minutes (the second was shorter) and showed live video of the fire as seen from several miles away. The unidentified host answered questions from viewers as they appeared on the screen. For wildland fire suppression this was a ground-breaking experiment that seemed to work well. The video only showed smoke from the fire and we never saw the person behind the male voice, but he did a good job of interacting with the viewers as they asked questions.

The broadcast was recorded and as of this morning, can still be viewed on Periscope.

Several evacuations in and around the St. Mary Visitor Center have been implemented as precautionary measures. Glacier County Sheriff’s Office and Blackfeet Law Enforcement have evacuated the west side of Lower St. Mary Lake and may continue with evacuations on the East shore of Lower St. Mary Lake. The townsite of St. Mary is being evaluated for possible evacuation. The National Park Service evacuated the employee housing area and administrative area Wednesday evening.

Several backpackers in the vicinity of the fire were located and found to be safe. Additional backpackers were located and will be escorted safely from the area. Park rangers and personnel will continue to search for backcountry hikers in the area to evacuate them and direct them to safety. 

On Wednesday several visitors were able to retrieve their vehicles that were left along the Going-to-the-Sun Road yesterday due to fire activity in the area. One vehicle was consumed by the fire.

(UPDATED at 6 p.m. MT, July 22, 2015)

map Reynolds Fire Glacier national park
Map showing heat detected on the Reynolds Creek Fire by a satellite at 3:08 p.m. MT, July 22, 2015. The red squares represent the most recent heat sources detected. The locations represented are usually accurate to within a mile or so.

A recent pass by the MODIS satellite detected some additional heat sources at the Reynolds Creek Fire in Glacier National Park. The scattered detections could mean that either the fire is spotting far ahead and starting new spot fires, or the satellite is having trouble dealing with the steep terrain, cloud cover, or heavy smoke created by the fire.

The National Park Service said Wednesday afternoon they are expanding the evacuation zone to include the St. Mary area within Glacier National Park. These evacuations include the St. Mary Visitor Center and National Park Service administrative area. The St. Mary Campground, Rising Sun Campground, and the Rising Sun Motor Inn were previously evacuated. Evacuations for areas adjacent to the park boundary were ordered by the Glacier County Sheriff and Blackfeet Emergency Services.

Earlier the NPS said the St. Mary Visitor Center would close at noon Wednesday so it could be used as a fire staging area.

Wednesday morning the NPS said the fire, which started after 3 p.m. on Tuesday, had burned about 2,000 acres. There has been no update on the size since then.

A Type 1 Incident Management Team has been ordered. A lesser-qualified Type 2 IMT was ordered on Tuesday.

As we wrote earlier today (below), the Red Flag Warning for Wednesday and the dry and windy conditions predicted for Thursday could portend significant additional growth of the fire over the next 30 hours.

The video below was recorded Lakota Duncan who was with his family from Missouri as they visited the park.

**** (UPDATED at 12:32 p.m. MT, July 22, 2015)

Wednesday morning the National Park Service released updated information about the Reynolds Creek Fire which is burning along the Going-to-the-Sun-Road in Glacier National Park in northwest Montana. The fire has grown to 2,000 acres, which is a doubling of size since the last report Tuesday afternoon.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is still closed between the St. Mary entrance on the east side and Big Bend on the west side. The park is assisting visitors to retrieve their vehicles that were left along the road Tuesday as they evacuated. One vehicle was consumed by the fire.

The blaze is moving quickly in heavy timber and has extreme spread potential. The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning which will be in effect from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday for the Glacier National Park area. The Warning predicts sustained winds of 15 to 20 mph with gusts of 20 to 30 mph. The humidity will drop to 10 to 18 percent.

During the three hours after the fire was reported at 3:45 on Tuesday, the wind blew out of the southwest at 7 to 9 mph with gusts of 18 to 21 mph. The forecast for Thursday for St Mary, six air miles northeast of the fire, is for temperatures in the mid-70s, 13 to 17 mph winds out of the southwest with gusts to 24, cloud cover of 26 to 42 percent, and a minimum relative humidity of 23 percent — and virtually no chance of rain. These are conditions very conducive to very significant additional fire spread.

The Park’s webcam at the St. Mary’s Visitor Center points in the general direction of the fire and at 12:58 p.m. on Wednesday I could see some smoke on the image. If the Park pointed it more to the right we’d probably get a better view.


(Originally published at 10:05 a.m. MT, July 22, 2015)

The Reynolds Creek Fire in Glacier National Park was reported at 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday and grew very quickly to about 1,000 acres in a few hours. The fire is at St. Mary Lake on the north side of Going to the Sun Road near Grizzly Point, approximately six miles east of Logan Pass and six air miles southwest of St. Mary.

The road is closed from Big Bend to the St. Mary entrance station.

Reynolds Fire map
The red squares represent the approximate location of heat detected on the Reynolds Fire by a satellite at 4:03 a.m. MT, July 22, 2015. The location of the squares is accurate to within a mile or so.

The Rising Sun Motor Inn and the Rising Sun Campground were evacuated Tuesday evening. Park rangers and personnel are searching for backcountry hikers in the area to direct them to safety.

A Type 2 Interagency Incident Management Team has been ordered and should arrive Wednesday.

Resources assisting the Park are from Flathead National Forest, Glacier County, East Glacier FD, Babb FD, St Mary FD, Cutbank FD, Blackfeet Fire Management, Montana Department of Natural Resources, Evergreen FD,  West Valley FD, and Flathead County.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

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