Glacier Park Fire Rages On As Park Officials Assess Damage to Historic Buildings

Officials say at least seven private homes and a number of historic park buildings have been lost to the Howe Ridge Fire

By Justin Franz
The Howe Ridge Fire burning in Glacier National Park. Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service.

The Latest

—Seven private homes, multiple historic structures lost to fire

—Fire has burned 2,500 acres as of Tuesday

Flathead County to enter Stage 2 fire restrictions at 12 a.m. Thursday

Updated: Aug. 14, 5:24 p.m.

Glacier National Park officials announced Tuesday that at least seven private homes and a number of historic buildings owned by the National Park Service were lost to a wildfire that has burned thousands of acres along Lake McDonald.

The lightning-caused Howe Ridge Fire started late Saturday in an area last burned by the Robert Fire in 2003. The fire smoldered above Lake McDonald until Sunday evening when it exploded to approximately 2,500 acres. The fire is one of nearly a dozen large blazes currently burning in Northwest Montana.

Although park officials are still assessing the damage, they announced that seven private residences, the main building at the Kelly’s Camp Historic District and a number of other historic buildings owned by the National Park Service had burned to the ground. The camp area was first homesteaded by Frank Kelly in 1894, and by the time the park was established in 1910, it had become a popular summer resort. At least three buildings near the Wheeler Cabin — the longtime summer home of Montana Sen. Burton K. Wheeler — were destroyed as well. The main building, which has been owned by the Park Service since 2014, caught fire but was saved thanks to the efforts of local firefighters. The Lake McDonald Ranger Station was also saved.

“This is a heartbreaking time at the park,” said Glacier Park Superintendent Jeff Mow. “We’ve lost extremely important historic buildings that tell a piece of the park’s story, and multiple people have lost homes that welcomed their families to the shores of Lake McDonald for generations.”

This week’s fire marks the third time in four years that historic structures have been lost to wildfires in Glacier National Park. In 2015, the Baring Creek Cabin was destroyed by the Reynolds Creek Fire near St. Mary. In 2017, the beloved Sperry Chalet dormitory was destroyed by the Sprague Fire.

On Monday, the 60 or so firefighters assigned to the Howe Ridge Fire doused hot spots. Two CL-215 “Super Scooper” planes and one helicopter are dropping water on the fire today, and a Type 1 incident management team is expected to take over firefighting efforts later this week. Firefighters are currently focusing their efforts on protecting structures in the area, including the Lake McDonald Lodge. The upper Lake McDonald area was evacuated on Sunday night and the Going-to-the-Sun Road between Apgar and Logan Pass is closed.

Stage 2 fire restrictions went into effect in Glacier Park overnight. The Flathead County Commission voted on Tuesday morning to implement Stage 2 fire restrictions at 12 a.m. Thursday. Stage 2 restrictions prohibit campfires and smoking outside.   

Outside of Glacier, two fires are burning on the Flathead National Forest. The Coal Ridge Fire had burned 331 acres about 5 miles west of Polebridge as of Monday morning. Near Essex, the Paola Ridge Fire had burned 370 acres as of Tuesday afternoon. The Brownstone Fire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness had burned 1,600 acres as of Tuesday morning.

At least five fires are currently burning on the Kootenai National Forest. The Davis Fire near Yaak has burned 5,218 acres and spread into Canada. East of Lake Koocanusa, the Ten Mile Fire has burned 680 acres and the Sterling Complex Fire has burned 761 acres. The Porcupine Fire west of Rexford burned 17 acres and was 100 percent contained as of Tuesday morning. The Gold Hill Fireanother holdover from this past weekend’s lightning storm, had burned 80 acres in the Noisy Creek Drainage north of Libby. The Highway 37 Firewhich started last month north of Libby near the W.R. Grace & Co. asbestos mine, was listed as 100 percent contained. 

On the Flathead Indian Reservation, firefighters have been taking advantage of favorable weather to make gains against the Garden Creek Fire north of Hot Springs. As of Tuesday morning the fire had burned 2,052 acres and was 25 percent contained.

This story will be updated when additional information becomes available. 

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