Heavy Smoke Helping Calm Glacier Park Fire

Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta under voluntary evacuation notice

By Beacon Staff
Smoke from the Sprague Fire fills the Lake McDonald valley in Glacier National Park on Aug. 30, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The Latest

— Heavy smoke helping stall Sprague Fire in Glacier National Park

— Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta under voluntary evacuation notice

— Gibralter Ridge Fire near Eureka forces new closures

Updated: Sept. 6, 1:45 p.m.

Heavy localized smoke is helping reduce fire behavior in Glacier National Park.

The Sprague Fire has consumed 13,343 acres but is stalling its growth on the west side of Glacier National Park. Air quality is expected to remain poor over the next few days because of a high-pressure weather system building over the fire, creating stable conditions and light winds, according to fire managers.

There will be a meeting Wednesday night to discuss fire activity and future projections. Fire managers and Glacier Park officials are hosting the public meeting at 7 p.m. at the Glacier Park Headquarters Community Building.

Due to the large number of nearby fires, air quality and visibility will continue to be very poor. People with smoke sensitivities, should limit their exposure and exertion while outdoors. The National Weather Service said there is a small chance for moisture on Sept. 8 but most likely the smoke will hinder any substantial precipitation from falling. No other rain is predicted for at least the next week, according to NWS.

Firefighters in Glacier Park worked overnight monitoring fire activity on Snyder Ridge and patrolled the Lake McDonald Lodge complex, which now has more than 1,000 feet of mainline and 8,000 feet of lateral hand line installed as a “rain for rent” sprinkler system. This system is designed to wet large areas to create a fire break. Yesterday firefighters installed hose lays and sprinklers in the Avalanche Creek Campground. Today they will be working to install a similar system in the north McDonald Lake area.

An evacuation order remains in effect from the south end of Lake McDonald north to Logan Pass. This includes the North McDonald Road. It does not include the Apgar area at this time. Logan Pass is still accessible from the east side of the park.  The duration of the evacuation is unknown at this time, park officials say.

The Adair Peak Fire was started by lightning on Aug. 12 and fire managers have been monitoring the fire, which is now at 1,375 acres. The fire is burning in a remote area of the park on the south side of Logging Lake. Fire managers expect the fire behavior to moderate as this fire enters old fire scars. Firefighters are implementing structure protection around the historic cabins located at both ends of Logging Lake.

Waterton Lakes National Park, north of Glacier National Park in Alberta, is under a voluntary evacuation alert due to a nearby wildfire. Parks Canada, the agency overseeing the national parks, issued the evacuation advisory on Tuesday due to the 11,000-acre fire burning in the Kishinena Creek area of British Columbia’s Flathead Valley.

All trails and water access in Waterton have been closed. The townsite and the main access road from the Highways 5 and 6 entrance gate remain open. Emergency and wildfire suppression crews are currently on standby within the park.

The Gibralter Ridge Fire remains 7,291 acres about 7 miles east of Eureka. Firefighters are continuing to mop-up, patrol and monitor the fire’s gradual growth into the Williams Creek and Jiggs Creek drainages. The containment lines continue to hold, fire growth is minimal, and no new structures have been lost, fire managers said Sept. 6.

The east side of the fire has moved into the mouth of the Blue Sky drainage in the Whitefish Range. To protect health and public safety by keeping the public out of the active fire area, the Kootenai National Forest has closed a large area from the Whitefish divide to the west boundary of the Fortine District, and from the Canadian Border to Deep Creek. This includes the portion of NFS Road #114 from the Flathead National Forest boundary to the junction with Stoken Bridge/Foothills Road.

To support these efforts the Flathead National Forest has installed a gate on NFS Road #114 (Trail Creek) and has closed NFS Road #144 from mile point 8.8 to 14.8, the boundary with the Kootenai National Forest. There are no additional trail or area closures on the Flathead National Forest in relation to the Gibralter Ridge Fire.

The Caribou Fire is estimated at 19,985 acres and now at 10 percent containment. A full evacuation order remains in place for the West Kootenai area. The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office has announced that the Caribou Fire has claimed 10 homes and 30 outbuildings. Additional resources have been assigned the fire, but aircraft will not be able to resume until the smoke clears and visibility improves, according to fire managers.

Fire managers say structure protection remains the priority and heavy equipment will be used to build containment line to the southeast and north of West Kootenai, and extend the southern contingency fire line south of the community. Firefighters will continue night patrols to protect homes and area closure orders remain in place for the Caribou Fire. Fire managers will continue coordinating with Canadian fire managers on fire suppression activities.

The West Fork Fire, located seven miles northwest of Libby, is estimated at 5,768 acres with no report on containment. Structure protection assessment and evaluating homes in the Fisher Creek and McGinnis Meadows are ongoing. Crews will also begin installing sprinklers around homes in the event of the fire behavior increasing. The burnout planned for last night was postponed, due to an increase in humidity. The burnout operation will resume when conditions allow. Firefighters will be constructing fire line and heavy equipment will be used north of Bobtail to construct containment lines which may be used for burnout operations. Closure orders remain in place for the West Fork Fire.

The Moose Peak Fire, which originated in Sanders County, is still estimated at 4,993 acres and zero percent containment. Structure protection and evaluating values at risk is a priority. Closure orders remain in place for the Moose Peak Fire.

The Highway 200 Complex fires include the Readers Fires, Miller Fire, and Cub Fire on the Cabinet Ranger District and Deep Creek and Sheep Gap Fires on the Plains-Thompson Falls Ranger District on the Lolo National Forest. These fires total 17,675 acres with zero percent containment. Structure protection assessment and strengthening existing containment lines will continue to be the priority. Once visibility improves, aircraft will again be able to fly and assist ground crews. Additional resources, both crews and equipment, have arrived to assist in managing the fires.

Area closures are currently in place around immediate fire areas and areas integral to safe fire operations. Firefighters will continue mop-up and patrol of the Readers Fires and have shifted some of those resources to other more pressing fires. Firefighters and heavy equipment will be used to construct and improve existing containment lines. Sex Peak Lookout was wrapped for fire protection.

There will be a community meeting on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. at the Plains High School.

The Red Cross has set up a shelter at the Libby Assembly of God on Collins Avenue.

The Missoula County sheriff’s office downgraded a mandatory evacuation order for the town of Seeley Lake, which continues to deal with hazardous air quality due to nearby wildfires.

Residents of the 429 homes on the east side of Montana Highway 83, along with schools and businesses, still remain under an evacuation warning, said Sheriff T.J. McDermott, and are asked to be ready to leave again on short notice.

The Seeley Lake-area residents were evacuated on Aug. 28 because of a fire caused by lightning that has burned 187 square miles of forest land since it started on July 24.

Seeley-Swan High School students began the school year in an administrative building at a luxury resort on Tuesday. Seeley Lake Elementary School plans to start classes next Monday, Principal Chris Stout said.

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