GREAT FALLS- Justin Bilton and his 70-year old father were backpacking through Wyoming and Montana, and last weekend set up camp in Glacier National Park. The next day, they realized that a lightning strike had started a small fire, which eventually turned into the 3,500-acre Howe Ridge Fire along Lake McDonald.
The fire began to explode around them, and Bilton and his father jumped into their rental car, trying to escape, but were trapped by the flames.
Bilton said on Facebook: “We hiked back to the car to get out where it was parked at the end of a dead end road. We had just driven this road (safely) 3 hours before to get in and it was our only way out, apart from trying to stay ahead of the fire on foot. After we were stopped by the downed tree, we reversed back through all of this and were rescued by two park employees on a boat. They saved our lives.”
The two people on the boat were Jess Kimball, a tour boat captain on Lake McDonald, and an intern ranger at Apgar named Dave.
Justin continued: “When my dad decided he was going to get out to move the burning tree I was most scared because I didn’t think I could stop the stubborn old man! He’s def cool under pressure. We were camped down a trail that continued from the end of a dead end road and the fire was between us and the only way out. Had to reverse all the way back through all that to get back to the trailhead and down to the lake. The car burned shortly after we abandoned it and got rescued by a boat that just happened to be there.”
We will update you if we get more details.
As of Saturday, the lightning-sparked Howe Ridge Fire has burned about 3,500 acres; for perspective, the park encompasses more than one million acres. The fire has destroyed numerous private homes and structures, but there have been no reported injuries.
-David Sherman reporting for MTN News