Wildfire rages at Glacier National Park in Montana

A helicopter approaches a wildfire near Townsend, Mont., on July 21.

A helicopter approaches a wildfire near Townsend, Mont., on July 21.

(Thom Bridge / Associated Press)

About 100 firefighters converged on Glacier National Park in Montana on Wednesday as a blazing wildfire forced the evacuation of nearby campgrounds, a hotel and a small summer resort town.

The Reynolds Creek Wildland fire, which was moving quickly across a mountainside covered with heavy timber, had spread more than 2,000 acres by Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s late July and it’s hot and it’s dry, so when you have an ignition source, it’ll spread,” said Andy Huntsberger, leader of the Interagency Incident Command Team, which includes personnel from more than half a dozen fire departments in and around the park.

From mid-afternoon Tuesday, when the fire was first reported at Grizzly Point, it had doubled in size to become the most active fire in the country, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

By Wednesday, strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures prompted the National Weather Service to issue a red-flag warning for the area.


“We’ve had rain over the past week, but it wasn’t enough,” said Roxanne Johnson, who volunteers with the St. Mary Fire Department. “It’s unreal how dry it is up here.”

Johnson said that a few hundred people, many of whom had come to explore the eastern side of the national park, near the Canadian border, had been evacuated from the area.

National park officials also mobilized to search backcountry for hikers and help visitors retrieve vehicles that had been left along a road that takes tourists through the heart of the park. Parts of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a national historic landmark, were closed due to fire activity in the area, and at least one vehicle was consumed by the fire.

The 148-site St. Mary Campground, the 84-site Rising Sun Campground and the Rising Sun Motor Inn, which includes 72 units, also were evacuated Tuesday evening, national park officials said.

According to Denise Germann, a spokeswoman for the national parks, helicopters were providing water bucket drops but there had been no containment due to the extreme weather conditions.

“Priorities for the fire are visitor and firefighter safety, followed by values at risk, followed by fire containment,” she said by phone.

Officials said firefighters in other parts of the state also were struggling to contain a separate blaze near Helena that had scorched approximately 2,500 acres. There, officials from the U.S. Forest Service said that the fire was partially contained but was actively burning. A main highway in the area had been opened for single-lane traffic, and an evacuation notice remained in effect.
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