Glacier National Park: Firefighters work to protect Trail of the Cedars from wildfire

Firefighters hope to use roads around the edges of the Howe Ridge fire as fire lines. (inciweb.gov)

Firefighters worked Thursday to protect Glacier National Park’s irreplaceable Trail of the Cedars, should an advancing wildfire make a run to the north and into the ancient grove.

That effort included the protection of facilities at the nearby Avalanche Creek ranger station and campground, which also lies in the potential path of the 10,323-acre Howe Ridge fire.

A sprinkler system is in place on the Upper McDonald Creek trails, which firefighters hope will provide a line of defense if the fire moves downslope toward Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Meanwhile, structural protection crews worked to assess the town of Apgar, while lies south of the fire’s path through a heavy load of downed and dead timber – and heavy regeneration of lodgepole pines – created by the 2003 Robert fire and the 2001 Moose fire.

Crews are setting up sprinklers around buildings in the fire’s path, including the boat house at the Fish Creek Campground. (inciweb.gov)

Incident commander John Pierson’s elite Type 1 management team is using Canadian “Super Scooper” aircraft to drop water on the Howe Ridge fire’s southwest edge to slow its advance on the Inside North Fork Road.

Firefighters are clearing fuels along the road, hoping to use it as a fire break.

In addition, helicopters are dropping water on hot spots near Camas Creek and in the Rogers Lake area, according to Pierson’s Thursday update from Glacier.

Structures in the Fish Creek Campground, including a boat house used for winter storage of Lake McDonald’s historic tour boat, have been surrounded by sprinklers.

The forecast is not favorable to firefighters, Pierson’s team reported. Thursday’s outlook was for warmer, drier weather and gusty winds. Friday’s forecast includes the possibility of thunderstorms.

All closures and evacuations associated with the Howe Ridge fire remain in place. Those include:

Evacuations:

Evacuation orders are in place for the North 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, Avalanche and Fish Creek campgrounds.

Evacuation warnings:

An evacuation sarning is in place from the Quarter Circle Bridge Road north. This includes Apgar, the Grist Road, and all areas accessed from Quarter Circle Bridge Road. A separate evacuation warning is in place for all park areas north of the Bowman Lake Road junction with the Inside North Fork Road due to Whale Butte Fire activity, currently burning on Flathead National Forest land adjacent to the park boundary. An evacuation warning means people need to be ready to leave but are not being evacuated at this time.

Road and trail closures: The Going-to-the-Sun Road remains open between St. Mary and Logan Pass. It is closed between the foot of Lake McDonald (near Apgar) and Logan Pass. The North McDonald Road and Fish Creek Road are closed. The Inside North Fork Road is closed from Fish Creek to Logging Creek. Multiple trail closures are associated with this fire. Please see full trail closures on the park’s website: www.nps.gov/glac.

Fire restrictions: Glacier National Park and most of western Montana are under Stage II Fire Restrictions. No campfires will be permitted in Glacier’s frontcountry or backcountry. Smoking is also prohibited except within an enclosed building, vehicle, developed recreation area, or barren area three feet in diameter. Propane stoves that have an on/off switch are permitted.

The smoke outlook for northwest Montana is available at: https://wildlandfiresmoke.net/outlooks/NWMontana

A community meeting focused on Paola Ridge fire – also under Pierson’s management – will be held Thursday at 6 pm. Pierson and others will present their management plans for Paola Ridge and other fires in the area. The meeting is in the Izaak Walton Inn Pavilion in Essex and is open to the general public.

For a recorded Howe Ridge Fire update, call (406) 888-7077.

For general Glacier National Park information, visit www.nps.gov/glac or call (406) 888-7800.