WEST GLACIER – The fast-growing Howe Ridge fire that forced evacuations at Glacier National Park on Sunday has destroyed some structures on the north end of Lake McDonald but just how many structures are gone isn’t known yet.
Park officials are still accessing the damage, but say so far 1,500-to-2500 acres have burned on the west side of the park. The rapid growth and extreme fire behavior prompted very rapid evacuations beginning at around 8 p.m. on Sunday.
Evacuation orders were issued for the North Lake McDonald road, Lake McDonald Lodge area, Sprague Creek and Avalanche Campgrounds and 32 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road from the foot of Lake McDonald to Logan Pass.
The evacuation order includes about 55 private residences at the end of Lake McDonald where private landowners still don’t know the status of their properties — many of which have been in their families for 100-years or more.
The fire burned actively throughout the night Sunday and was visible from the beach at Apgar Village as it burned along a ridge. The landowners who were evacuated woke up Monday not knowing if their cabins are still standing .”
“Everybody was told to evacuate at a little after 9 o’clock and so we went to a motel room last night we are here today to assess,” property owner Tom Payne said on Monday.
“We are trying to get to the cabin to empty out the valuables,” added property owner Bruce Johnson.
Landowners told MTN News that while they are eager to get to their properties to retrieve their belongings, they are even more thankful all made it out of the area.
The status of about two dozen cabins in the Kelly’s Camp district on the west shore of the lake still isn’t known but early reports indicate the fire’s path of destruction passed through the area.
“An observer — [a] private person — went on his boat and went over to Kelly’s camp. All but two cabins have been burned in the fire. Two cabins did make it,” Payne said. “We don’t know anything about our cabin.”
The landowners we talked with say that not knowing if their cabins are standing is difficult but familiar as last year they were evacuated due to the Sprague Fire which later destroyed part of the historic Sperry Chalet.
“It won’t take us but a couple hours to get most the valuable stuff out. We have a couple trucks hired in Kalispell that will help us out as long as we can get the go [ahead] so we can clean out the cabin and set up our sprinklers,” Johnson said on Monday.
Landowners will not be able to return to their homes until Glacier National Park officials deem that it’s safe to do so.
Glacier National Park has established a Fire Information Line with updated recorded information at (406) 888-7077.
The Park has entered Stage II Fire Restrictions meaning that no campfires are allowed in the frontcountry or backcountry. Smoking is also prohibited except within an enclosed building, vehicle, developed recreation area, or barren area three feet in diameter.
The east side of Glacier National Park remains open including East Glacier, St. Mary and Many Glacier. Going-to-the-Sun road is open on the east side to Logan Pass.
For current information on what is open and what is closed go to Glacier National Park’s website or call the park’s fire information line at (406) 888-7077.
Reporting by Nicole Miller for MTN News