Wildfire in Glacier National Park Closes Scenic Road, Destroys Historic Buildings

The Howe Ridge Fire has forced the remote park to evacuate tourists during its peak season.

Wildfire in Glacier National Park Closes Scenic Road, Destroys Historic Buildings

Lake McDonald in 2016 and this week during the Howe Ridge Fire.

Courtesy of Shutterstock/Instagram/@ericmatt96

Yosemite Valley may finally be open again, but now another wildfire has forced Glacier National Park to evacuate tourists from several popular areas during the peak of its very short summer season. On Saturday, August 11—the same day the National Weather Service recorded an all-time high of 100°F in West Glacier, Montana—lightning ignited a fire on the Howe Ridge above Lake McDonald, according to Inciweb.

Since then, the National Park Service has been forced to close the main portion of the Going-to-the-Sun Road and evacuate tourists from Lake McDonald Lodge, North Lake McDonald Road, and the Avalanche and Sprague Campgrounds after the fire spread quickly due to dry and windy conditions.

Fortunately, nobody has been injured by the Howe Ridge Fire, but the 2,600-acre fire has already destroyed several historical cabins along the northwestern shore of Lake McDonald, per Glacier National Park’s Twitter account. Most of the destruction happened at Kelly’s Camp, a cabin resort founded in the late 19th century that became private summer homes in the 1960s. Nearby, the fire also destroyed the boathouse and three other buildings at the Wheeler Complex, which was built in 1916 and acquired by the National Park Service in 2014.

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

While the 1914 Lake McDonald Lodge is on the opposite shore of the lake from the fires and is unharmed, it remains closed due to the growing fire. The historic lodge is typically only open for a short window each year between May and September and was scheduled to close for the season on September 26, 2018, according to its website. It is unclear whether the lodge will be able to reopen this season.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road, which typically doesn’t open until late June once the snow is cleared, is closed during its peak season between Lake McDonald near Apgar and Logan Pass due to the fires. However, for those who still wish to experience the scenic road this year, 18.5 miles of the road from the eastern entrance in St. Mary to Logan Pass are currently open.

There are currently two Canadian “superscooper” airplanes and a K-Max Type I helicopter trying to suppress the fire with water pulled from Lake McDonald. There are also crews on the ground fighting the fire.

To see what the current conditions are like in Glacier National Park, you can see various views from its official webcams. For more information, call 406-888-7077 or visit Inciweb for the latest updates on the Howe Ridge Fire.

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Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at AFAR who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.
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