Glacier National Park issued a mandatory evacuation order Sunday for residents and visitors from the south end of Lake McDonald to Logan Pass and closed Going-to-the-Sun Road on the park’s west side as the Sprague fire threatened another run like the firestorm that destroyed Sperry Chalet on Aug. 31.
With a red flag warning for high winds through at least 9 p.m. Monday, firefighters began laying hoses outside the historic Lake McDonald Lodge and removing historic artifacts from the 104-year-old National Historic Landmark.
Park officials and the fire’s incident command team said strong east winds associated with an approaching cold front were expected to “breach the Mount Brown trail, bringing fire to the west face of Lake McDonald.”
Officials told visitors not to wait to be contacted by authorities to leave. “Visitors should take all of their belongings with them as it is unknown when the area will be safe to return.”
The evacuation zone includes Lake McDonald Lodge, which closed last week because of unhealthy concentrations of smoke; housing for the park concessionaire’s employees in the Lake McDonald area; the Kelly Camp area; and the Avalanche and Sprague Creek campgrounds.
The Avalanche Lake trail remained closed while crews assessed the presence of fire in the Lake Ellen Wilson and Avalanche Lake areas.
Incident commanders said the evacuation order was needed both “due to predicted weather and fire behavior but also due to the current and deteriorating air quality anticipated in the coming days.”
“Areas included in the evacuation order include all public facilities, trails, campgrounds accessed by and adjacent to Going-to-the-Sun Road from Apgar Campground to Logan Pass,” according to inciweb.com.
“Extreme fire behavior is expected,” said the fire’s information officers. “Approximately one mile of new flank in Lincoln Creek and Lincoln Ridge is perpendicular to the predicted cold front winds. Expect group torching, crown runs and long-range spotting on lower Lincoln Creek and Lincoln Ridge. Expect group torching and short crown runs and spotting on the south side of Mount Brown.”
The Mount Brown fire lookout has been wrapped in protective fire shields, although that does not guarantee its survival during a firestorm.
The Sprague fire’s weather officer had little positive news in the forecast for the week ahead:
“The main weather concern is a dry frontal passage which will bring a shift in wind direction that is not favorable for this incident. Winds will abruptly shift from the west to the east before midnight Sunday, pushing the fire and dense smoke toward Lake McDonald. Easterly winds are expected to persist through Monday before diminishing.
“Temperatures on Sunday reached the 80s, with humidity minimums in the teens. Cooler temperatures and somewhat higher humidity are expected Monday, but with little or no cloud cover and no rain.
“A warming trend will begin Tuesday with above normal temperatures returning Wednesday and Thursday. With high pressure building almost directly overhead this will result in stable conditions, light and variable winds, and little or no smoke transport. Concern is for smoke concentrations to increase within the Lake McDonald and West Glacier areas.”
Apgar and its motels, restaurants, campground and stores remain open. Logan Pass can be reached via the park’s eastern entrance at St. Mary.
Since its ignition by lightning on Aug. 10, the Sprague fire has consumed more than 6,000 acres and, less than a week ago, destroyed the historic Sperry Chalet. Radiant heat during an ember storm apparently ignited the lodge from the inside, blowing out windows and igniting eaves and the roof.
Firefighters positioned at the chalet were unable to stop the flames.