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Wildfire Tearing Through US National Park Forces Evacuations And Destroys Historic Buildings

author

Madison Dapcevich

Staff Writer

clockAug 17 2018, 00:26 UTC

Glacier National Park attracts millions of visitors every year who drive along "Going To The Sun Road", which is now closed due to fire danger. Zack Frank/Shutterstock

For the second year in a row, fires are sweeping through one of the United States’ most picturesque national parks, destroying homes and historic buildings in their path.

Currently burning 3,500 acres, the Howe Ridge Fire is on the west side of Montana’s Glacier National Park and has forced more than 100 evacuations from hotels and campsites of some of the park’s biggest tourist destinations.

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It started on the evening of August 11, when a lightning strike ignited a fire on a mountain ridge, northwest of the historic Lake McDonald Lodge. Since then, the fire has exploded from a 20-acre fire to a 2,500-acre blaze, reports the Flathead Beacon. At this time, it's unclear how many structures have been impacted by the flames, but Canadian “superscooper” airplanes and helicopters continue to drop water from the lake to slow the fire. According to fire officials, conditions could get worse as winds shift and move the flames in a different direction. Nearly 80 firefighters are working on the scene to provide structural protections for the residents around the lake and historic structures operated by the National Park Service.

IFLScience spoke with Maritsa Georgiou, a reporter for the local NBC affiliate who has been reporting on the fires for years.

“It seems like everyone was holding their breath in Montana this year. We made it well into August before a major fire broke out. There aren’t nearly as many fires as last year yet, but every time we get prolonged dry events mixed with wind and dry lightning, it’s a huge concern,” she said. “Last year’s fire season was so emotionally draining and went on for so long, I think a lot of us were on edge as we went into this fire season.”

Smoke from nearby Seeley Lake, Montana, during the destructive 2017 Rice Ridge Fire. Jenny Lindemer, Seeley Lake Resident

Historically, Montana experiences dramatic fire seasons every couple of years. Last year, more than 1 million acres burned in the state – some growing by more than 50,000 acres overnight – and many of the fires blowing up today are in or near those same boundaries.

“People’s lives are affected from every angle,” said Georgiou. “There are so many emotionally charged aspects to wildfire season. That doesn’t even cover the events when we have a death or loss of a home. It’s heartbreaking.”

Every year, millions of people from around the world visit Glacier National Park, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy.

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“There’s a reason Glacier National Park is called the Crown of the Continent. It’s truly majestic in its beauty,” said Georgiou. “From the historic lodges to the grizzly bears and other wildlife, it’s unlike anything most people have ever seen. And Montanans have a ton of pride in that. Plus, it’s a huge economic driver of our tourism industry. Any time there’s a fire in Glacier, it’s something people watch very closely.”

A majority of the million-plus-acre park remains largely unaffected, but wildfires across the state and throughout much of the western United States threaten structures and create health hazards. It's the second year in a row that California has been ravaged by wildfires. Currently, more than 12 are burning across the state, releasing toxic carbon monoxide from their flames, drifting nearly all the way to the east coast. 

You can view fires in the park via live-streamed webcams here

A 2017 photo shows smoke burning at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. Madison Dapcevich

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  • global warming,

  • wildfire,

  • Glacier National Park,

  • wildfires,

  • fires in montana,

  • glacier national park several structures damaged fires