Wildfire activity has moderated in Western Montana in the wake of wet and cool weather earlier this week, but crews remain hard at work as temperatures start to rise again .
Todd Abel is operations section chief for the Whale Butte, Paola Ridge, and Coal Ridge fires burning in Flathead National Forest, and the Howe Ridge Fire in Glacier National Park.
"We continue to do structure protection around all these fires," he says.
This can mean anything from campgrounds to lodges to homes and Abel says these efforts are especially focused on the north and south end of the nearly 10,000-acre Howe Ridge Fire in Glacier. More than 250 personnel are on the blaze and firefighters continue to fortify structures at risk, including the Fish Creek and Apgar campgrounds.
"We have multiple resources out there all day long, assessing them, sprinklering them if it’s necessary, and prepping around them whatever’s accurate to prep around ‘em," Abel says.
The fire remains roughly a half mile from Going-to-the-Sun Road and less than a mile from Inside North Fork Road. In addition to cutting lines free of anything that may burn, crews are dropping small, ping-pong ball-sized spheres that themselves light on fire to keep the edge of the blaze under control.
"I wanna make it perfectly clear we’re gonna do this nice and slow," Abel says. "We don’t wanna introduce a whole bunch more fire in there so we just wanna ease this down as it kinda tries to force our hand along that line."
Evacuation orders are in place around Lake McDonald, for private residences along Going-to-the-Sun Road, and in the Sprague Creek, Avalanche, and Fish Creek Campgrounds. Multiple road and trail closures are also in effect in the park.
Farther south, fire size has remained mostly stable over the last two days. A community meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Community Protestant Church in West Yellowstone for the Bacon Rind Fire. That fire is burning 2,000 acres in the Gallatin National Forest and in Yellowstone National Park. Fire and smoke can be seen from Highway 191.
Fire danger remains extreme in most of Western Montana, and warmer, dry weather is expected in the days ahead.