Fire Crews Make Progress on North Fork Blaze as Possible Fireworks Ban Lingers

Crews made good progress on Monday and successfully installed containment lines around a good portion of the fire

By Dillon Tabish
Keith VanBroeke, operations chief for the incident management team in charge of the Glacier Rim Fire, briefs firefighters early June 30. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Update: June 30, 12 p.m.

Firefighters reined in a human-caused wildfire north of Columbia Falls on Monday but concerns loom from a series of thunderstorms that swept the valley last night.

The Glacier Rim Fire, located near the western banks of the North Fork Flathead River across from Glacier National Park, has burned 85 acres and is 30 percent contained, according to incident managers. Nearly 115 personnel and two helicopters are battling the blaze.

“We’re looking a lot better today than the start of yesterday,” Keith VanBroeke, operations chief for the incident management team in charge of the fire, told crews in the June 30 morning briefing.

This corner of the state is in the midst of an unprecedented early summer. Farm crops and fire conditions both resemble what they would be in mid-August. Rivers are dropping substantially and drought conditions are surfacing.

But perhaps most noticeably, fire season has reared its ugly head, threatening the worst in almost a decade.

Fire danger remains very high across the Flathead Valley. Officials in Flathead, Lake, Lincoln and Sanders counties announced Stage I restrictions, which will go into effect July 3 and prohibits campfires except in designated campgrounds and approved fire pits.

The Flathead County Commission will consider banning fireworks during a Wednesday meeting. Lake County and Lincoln County are considering similar bans in the coming days. The City of Whitefish also announced June 30 that it would consider banning fireworks.

Fireworks are prohibited on all Forest Service, National Park Service and State of Montana lands and within Kalispell and Columbia Falls city limits. Fireworks are allowed in Whitefish from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., July 3-4.

An investigation remains into the cause of the Glacier Rim Fire, which officials believe started in a rock quarry near the Glacier Rim access site on the North Fork Road on Saturday.

VanBroeke said he did not expect the fire to actively spread Tuesday.

Crews made good progress on Monday and successfully installed containment lines around a good portion of the fire.

Helicopter crews on Tuesday are focusing their attention on the northern edge of the fire, which has yet to be contained due to rugged terrain.

Firefighters are also suppressing small spot fires that sparked across the river in Glacier Park and are expected to completely quash those by the end of Tuesday.

The interior of the fire continues to actively burn and snagged trees are presenting hazardous conditions. Safety officers warned crews in the morning briefing of the snags as well as another unique hazard: grizzly bears. Crews were reminded that they were in grizzly habitat and were encouraged to remove all attractants from their gear and sleeping areas.

Initial reports were that the Glacier Rim Fire was threatening six to eight homes. In fact, two homeowners voluntarily evacuated from the area and six structures were potentially within position to be threatened, but Forest Service officials say a mandatory evacuation order has not been issued.

The North Fork Road is open to travel, but drivers are asked to not stop along the section of North Fork Road near the fire. Information boards have been posted and a hotline is established at 406-387-3867.

Temperatures are expected to hover in the mid 80s Tuesday, a noticeable drop from the triple-digit temperatures from the past weekend, when the fire started.

Temperatures hit 102 degrees on June 28, setting a new all-time record high for the month of June in Kalispell. That same day the Glacier Rim Fire doubled in size, burning actively in heavy timber and brush while crews struggled with rugged terrain.

The month of June is almost certainly destined to be the hottest on record in Kalispell, according to National Weather Service officials. As of June 29, the average monthly temperature was 64.3 degrees, which ties for the all-time high set in 1986. The final two days of the month were predicted to push that average mark up to a new record.

The heat wave that hit the region June 26 is expected to last upwards of two weeks.

Kalispell is also expected to break the record for the number of 90-degree days in June. The record is seven, and six had already occurred by June 29.

Along with the blistering heat, the lack of precipitation is equally historic.

The three-month stretch from April through June is the driest on record in Kalispell by nearly one inch. As of June 29, the city received only 1.17 inches of rain in that period. The driest on record is 2.09 inches, set in 1904.

May was already the driest on record in Kalispell, and June is tied for the sixth driest, with only 0.60 inches of rain.

Kalispell has not received rain since June 3, setting a new record of consecutive dry days in June, according to the National Weather Service. The previous record of 15 days was set in 1955.


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