Howe Ridge Fire causes more evacuations in Glacier National Park

CL-215 water scooping air tankers

Above: CL-215 water scooping air tankers working the Howe Ridge Fire August 16, 2018. InciWeb photo.

During the last four days the Howe Ridge Fire has spread almost three miles toward the southwest, and also moved south along the shore of Lake McDonald where it is 7 miles north of West Glacier, Montana. On the north end it is less than half a mile west of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

There are 134 personnel are assigned to the 7,835-acre blaze. That is a small number considering its size and the fact that the fire is causing evacuations, has destroyed 27 structures, and is threatening numerous others. Fire officials have not been able to acquire the number of firefighting resources that they need. This is due to reductions in the budgets of the federal land management agencies and competition from the other 55 large wildfires burning across the western states, many of which are also making do with inadequate staffing on their fires.

map Howe Ridge Fire
The red lines represent the perimeter of the Howe Ridge Fire at 12:30 a.m. MDT August 19. The white line was the perimeter on August 15. Click to enlarge.

Below is a video posted to YouTube August 16 by Justin Bilton. He described it like this:

We were camped 2.5 up the North Macdonald Trail when we saw the then small Howe Ridge Fire began to spread from 5 acres to over 2000 in a matter of hours. We hiked back to the car to get out where it was parked at the end of a dead end road. We had just driven this road (safely) 3 hours before to get in and it was our only way out, apart from trying to stay ahead of the fire on foot. After we were stopped by the downed tree, we reversed back through all of this and were rescued by two park employees on a boat. They saved our lives. We were not joyriding through a wildfire.

Very dry weather and record-setting high temperatures in the Glacier National Park area in the last several weeks have dried out the fuels and are causing the fire to spread much more rapidly than is typical for the area. Usually firefighters have days to think about rates of spread and to run fire behavior computer models, but this blaze is shortening those time frames making it difficult, for example, to evacuate the west side of Lake McDonald as quickly as needed.

A weather system will bring slightly cooler temperatures, but the frontal passage will increase winds and cause shifts in wind directions. This could significantly affect fire behavior on the southern and western flanks of the fire. Saturday smoke over the fire prevented aircraft from dropping water.

Crews are working around structures in the Fish Creek Campground area and along the Inside North Fork Road to reduce fuels and to set up sprinkler systems. Structure protection efforts continue along the north end of Lake McDonald using sprinkler systems around the remaining structures on North Lake McDonald Road. Personnel are installing hoses and sprinklers to minimize potential fire spread towards the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Fire managers will continue to proactively plan for protection of other areas as the fire progresses.

The Fish Creek Campground area is now under an evacuation order. Evacuation orders remain in place for the North Lake McDonald road (private residences and the Lake McDonald Ranger Station), Lake McDonald Lodge area (all businesses, employees, and private residences), private residences along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and Sprague Creek and Avalanche Campgrounds.

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. Google+

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