St. Mary Visitor Center Reopens After Evacuations

As of 11 a.m. Monday, the Reynolds Creek Fire has burned 3,327 acres of land on the east side of Glacier National Park

By Justin Franz
The Reynolds Creek Fire in Glacier National Park on July 22, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Updated: July 27, 11:30 a.m.

Visitors are again roaming the St. Mary Visitor Center just days after a massive wildfire shut down a section of Glacier National Park.

The visitor center reopened at 8 a.m. Monday, the first of a handful of facilities that are reopening this week. The St. Mary Campground is expected to welcome back visitors Wednesday, and the west side of Going-to-the-Sun Road will reopen to Logan Pass this week as well, according to fire officials.

Those sites, along with the Rising Sun Campground and Rising Sun Motor Inn, were closed a week ago when the Reynolds Creek Fire grew from a 2-acre burn to a 2,000-acre monster in a matter of hours. The blaze is one of the top priority fires in the nation and, as of Monday morning, had burned 3,327 acres of land on the east side of Glacier Park. It is currently 30 percent contained.

Cold weather and precipitation was forecasted to hit the region Monday and could help firefighters continue to corral the fire. The relief could be short-lived, though. Temperatures are expected to return to the 90s later this week.

»»» Click here to view a map of the fire.

At a public meeting in West Glacier on Sunday evening, Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow said the entire Sun Road would be open again “when it’s safe.” He said it is possible that some trails in the area of the fire, which started in the Reynolds Creek area, may not reopen this year.

On Sunday, firefighters used explosives to build a 4,000-foot fire line in an avalanche chute not far from the Sun Road. Firefighters are also focusing on building line in the Two Dog Flats area to prevent the fire from heading toward the community of St. Mary. On Monday, officials said it is likely the fire will continue to grow in areas where fire lines have not been constructed.

»»» Click here to view photos from the fire.

On Sunday morning, the mandatory evacuation along the west shore of Lower St. Mary Lake was downgraded to a Level 2 “warning.” The Level 2 status of the east side of lower St. Mary Lake will be downgraded to Level 3 “advisory.” The town site of St. Mary will continue to remain at a Level 3.

Evacuation orders have been lifted for National Park Service employee housing and administrative areas.

The incident has cost $3.5 million, according to fire officials. There are 650 personnel and seven aircraft assigned to the incident. The cause remains under investigation.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.