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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Glacier Park Hikers Recount Backcountry Evacuation

Fire officials now believe that the Reynolds Creek Fire was human-caused.
Corin Cates-Carney
The Reynolds Creek Fire forced the evacuation of backcountry hikers in Glacier National Park.

Lindsay Pilon and Kayla Stephens were among those evacuated from northeast Glacier Tuesday when the Reynolds Creek fire began burning through what is now estimated at 4,000 acres of dry timber.

The two young women live and work in West Glacier and were leading family friends on an overnight trip.
"When we were backpacking out is when we essentially saw it and we saw all the smoke rising," Stephens says. "At that point it wasn’t that big when I saw it. I was a few minutes before Lindsey."

Hiking with a group behind Stephens near Goat Mountain and Okotomi Lake, Lindsay Pilon says she started leading her group faster down the trail when she saw pillars of smoke.

"We were all of a sudden hiking and everything turned orange and we turned around and there was a giant cloud. I was with an eight year old who turned around and asked why we’re in a big orange blob… As we were coming down from the lake at approximately five o’clock we heard what we thought were car alarms, or fire trucks, but it turns out it was the evacuation siren," explains Pilon.

The group soon ran into park officials who explained the situation.

"I thought the Park Service handled it really well. There were lots of people there telling us to get out. There was a shuttle available. They knew when I got down that Kayla had gone ahead and that we were going to be looking for her and they were there waiting for us. And when we walked out they said, ‘ you’re our four backpackers that we’re waiting for.' So I felt like it was really well handled and as organized as it could possibly be," Pilon says.

No one in their group was hurt. They went briefly to the St. Mary Lake Visitor Center before returning to West Glacier.

Growing thousands of acres in the first 24 hours, the fire led to several precautionary evacuations.

The St. Mary Visitor Center has been closed to the public and the west side of Lower St. Mary Lake is under a precautionary evacuation. Those may continue into the lower east shore of the lake.

The townsite of St. Mary still is being evaluated for possible evacuation.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed on the east side between the St. Mary entrance and Big Bend because of use by fire crews.

Incident Command Officer Andy Huntsberger says the wind driving the fire is making work hard for crews.
"It makes it very difficult for us to do our job. These are very heavy fuels, so the generate a lot of heat and one of the most effective tools we can use to dampen the heat and progression is aerial resources."

Along with 6 aircraft, 200 people, including hand crews and other personnel are working the fire.

Huntsberger says the fire’s growth is being limited in the north because of steep rocky terrain. But in the east and west, the fire has room to expand.

"And the east is probably our area of greatest concern because predominate winds blow from the west to the east here. And there is a band of vegetation that is continuous from where the fire is currently at all the way to St. Mary and beyond."

At 10:00 p.m. Thursday night Huntsberger will transition his command to a Type 1 incident team.

Type 1 is the highest level of emergency response.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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