Update 4:15 p.m.
For the second year running, the historic Lake McDonald Lodge will close for the season early because of a fire burning in Glacier National Park.
The Howe Ridge Fire continues to burn more than 3,500 acres on the northwest side of Lake McDonald.
Evacuations were ordered for some areas along the lake last week, including for the lodge. The orders displaced more than 170 lodge employees, according to Marc Ducharme with Xanterra Travel Collections, which operates the facility.
He says no one knows how long the evacuation orders will last and smoke filling the area is creating poor air quality.
“While each day we were telling our employees that the likelihood of getting back in was slim, today we officially made that announcement.”
Ducharme says the company will work to transfer employees to other properties run by Xanterra in the region.
He says ideally the Lake McDonald lodge is open through the end of September, and there were about 82 reservations booked each day for the remaining 45 days of the season.
“From a business perspective it’s super disheartening.”
Last year, the Lake McDonald Lodge closed a month early because of fires burning around Glacier.
The East side of Glacier National Park remains open with no closures related due to fires.
Evacuation orders remain in place for the North Lake McDonald road; the Lake McDonald Lodge area, and the Sprague Creek & Avalanche Campgrounds.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road remains closed between the foot of Lake McDonald near Apgar to Logan Pass. It is open between St. Mary and Logan Pass. The Inside North Fork road is closed and multiple trail closures are associated with the 3,500 acre Howe Ridge Fire.
Firefighters expect the fire to continue to grow north toward Rogers Lake, and south toward Lake McDonald. They're focusing on structure protection in the Lake McDonald area.
A Community Meeting will be held on Saturday, August 18 at 6 p.m. Fire personnel will present management plans for Whale Butte, Howe Ridge, Coal Ridge, and Paola Ridge fires at a Community Meeting at the Columbia Falls High School in the “little theater.”
Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry issued an evacuation warning at noon Friday for residents between Moose Creek road and Whale Creek road north west of Polebridge following significant growth of the Whale Butte Fire.
The warning area is specifically from 12340 to 13595 North Fork Rd., 50 to 1327 Moose Creek Rd., 600 to 876 Deep Woods Trl.
Flathead County Office of Emergency Services Manager Rick Sacca says a flight over the fire this morning showed it is now burning around 140 acres, up from single digit acres seen early yesterday. Sacca says strong winds could align with the drainage where properties are located and spread the fire quickly.
The North Fork Road is still open, but the County Sheriff’s Office is asking people to drive slow because the area smokey and emergency vehicles are on the road.
West of Dillon, the 7,600 acre Goldstone Fire is burning in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest on the Idaho-Montana border. The Forest service Friday closed parts of more forest roads in the area. A portion of the Continental Divide Trail has also been re-routed due to fire activty. See details on the closures here.
Portions of bone-dry western Montana could see dry thunderstorms and fierce winds this evening; maybe even a few scattered showers, too.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Dan Zumpfe doesn’t mince words about tonight’s weather forecast for Western Montana.
"This is going to be a very active period through midnight. It looks to be the most concerning thunderstorm period here in western Montana for the foreseeable future. Be prepared.”
A Red Flag warning is now in effect until midnight for:
“Mostly the forests south of Missoula, over north central Idaho and southwest Montana. We’re expecting lightning that may (ignite) new wildfire starts. We’re also expecting gusty winds with the thunderstorms.”
Winds speeds could approach 40mph.
The Missoula and Bitterroot valleys are most likely to see those storms between 5 and 7 p.m.
Zumpfe describes northwest Montana as tonight’s wildcard.
"All indications are that we’re going to see more isolated lightning strikes – maybe one and done – mostly high clouds and a few sprinkles. They’ll largely miss a lot of the rain, but some of the fires near Glacier Park - especially on the south end -could get some of the wind gusts coming through Missoula and points south very late in the evening; maybe in the 10 p.m. hour.”
Speaking of rain, don’t hold your breath for widespread, wetting showers. The National Weather Service predicts that areas south of the Interstate-90 corridor have the best chance of getting brief, heavy rain, but it will be spotty at best.
As of mid-day Friday no measurable precipitation had fallen at the Missoula airport for 44 days. The record is 47 days.