Update: July 24, 10:30 a.m.
Cooler overnight temperatures provided temporary relief for firefighters squaring off against a wildfire in Glacier National Park, but Friday’s forecast of dry, windy conditions indicated another busy day ahead.
The Reynolds Creek Fire has held steady as firefighters work to contain the blaze, which is burning in heavy timber with short crown runs, group torching and short-range spotting on the east side of the park along the north side of St. Mary Lake.
On Friday morning, the National Weather Service issued yet another red flag warning for the area around the 4,000-acre blaze that has forced evacuations in the St. Mary Valley and the temporary closure of parts of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Meteorologists are expecting persistent winds of 15 to 18 miles per hour with gusts up to 25 miles per hour.
Late last night, a Type I Incident Management team, led by Kalispell’s Greg Poncin, officially took command of the fire. Over 300 personnel and six helicopters are now fighting the fire, which is listed on the National Interagency Coordination Center situation report among the nation’s largest fires. The fire has cost roughly $550,000. The cause remains unknown.
»»» Click here for a status of what’s open and what’s closed in the park.
Officials will be holding a public meeting about the blaze tonight at 6 p.m. at the St. Mary Lodge, where locals will have a chance to ask questions and learn more about current conditions.
Firefighters will focus on digging containment lines at the head of the fire in the Two Dog Flats area on Friday and managing spot fires near Reynolds Creek and the Rising Sun area, according to fire managers.
Evacuation orders for Rising Sun and parts of the St. Mary Valley remain in effect. Other area residents closer to the town of St. Mary have been told to get ready to leave if the fire continues to spread. Among them is Ivan Peters, a 77-year-old man who built his own home and has lived in the area since 2000.
“I’ve taken every precaution I can. The truck is packed and all I have to do is take the photos off the wall and pack them too,” Peters said Thursday afternoon. “When I see flames, I’ll boogie out of here.”
»»» Click here to view photos from the fire.
Relief could arrive this weekend as cool, wet weather sweeps across Northwest Montana, including the high country in Glacier Park. The National Weather Service said snow could fall at elevations around 8,000 feet this weekend. Temperatures will begin to cool and winds will increase Sunday. The main weather disturbance will arrive Monday with the coolest temperatures of the week. The system could exit the area quickly Tuesday morning, with drier and quieter weather following for the remainder of the week, according to the NWS.
This corner of the state is suffering under drought conditions following one of the driest, warmest stretches of spring and summer on record.
The Reynolds Creek Fire started on Tuesday afternoon and within hours had grown from a 2-acre burn to a 2,000-acre monster. One vehicle and one historic cabin, the Baring Creek Cabin, have been destroyed in the blaze. The cabin, also known as the Sun Camp Fireguard Cabin, was built in 1935 and was the sole remaining structure from the Sun Camp Ranger Station complex.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jon Tester is urging the federal government to send more resources to Glacier Park to battle the blaze. He warned that the Bureau of Indian Affairs should be read if the fire crosses into the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
“The wildfire raging in Glacier National Park threatens not only one of our country’s most beautiful landscapes, but also the tourism industry in my home state,” Tester said. “The federal government has a trust responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of the Blackfeet Nation, as well as ensure they have the resources necessary to protect their homelands from impending disaster.”
Because of the fire, much of the area around St. Mary is temporarily closed to the public. The Sun Road from Big Bend to St. Mary is closed and all trails off the road are also off-limits. The St. Mary and Logan Pass visitor centers have also been shuttered for the time being.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.