Crews brace for wind gusts of up to 65 mph in Glacier National Park fire
WEST GLACIER, Mont. (AP) – Fire commanders grounded their air attack and pulled firefighters from the lines Monday as strong winds threatened to send a blaze racing at Glacier National Park.
Fire information officer Bob McKinney said the wind gusts of up to 40 mph made fighting the fire too dangerous for ground crews and pilots. More than 1,000 firefighters were battling the blaze, which had grown to more than 48,000 acres.
”The winds are incredibly strong right now. It would be homicide trying to put a fire crew in front of that thing,” McKinney said.
About a dozen people in a small, wooded development west of the park were ordered to evacuate late Monday afternoon as a precaution when winds pushed flames toward the homes, barns and a small store.
Despite the blaze, lodges and other attractions within the park were still bustling Monday. Mark McDevitt, general manager of the Lake McDonald Lodge, said the facility was booked solid Monday night.
”It’s a great photo op,” he said of the fire. ”And people are taking advantage of it.”
Favorable weather over the weekend helped crews gain some ground on the blaze. Although still considered only 5 percent contained, officials said northeast winds pushed flames away from buildings and homes that had been in danger along Lake McDonald.
The National Weather Service issued high-wind warnings Monday for the area, forecasting gusts of up to 65 mph.
”It looks bad and it’s going to get worse,” fire information officer Joe Hart said.
The lightning-sparked blaze began Aug. 16 near Whitefish. It doubled in size Friday and spread across the western border of Glacier National Park. It pushed east toward Lake McDonald, home to a number of park lodges, campgrounds and private properties.
Firefighters spent much of the Labor Day weekend helping area homeowners clear brush and other debris from their property.
Crews working around the north end of Lake McDonald also planned to set up water pumps, hoses and sprinklers to protect cabins along the lake.
Jeff Whitney, a deputy incident commander, estimated about 80 buildings around the lake, many of them in densely wooded areas, remained threatened by the fire.
Firefighters were gaining the upper hand on two other fires north of Yellowstone National Park in south-central Montana.
At one of the fires, between the park and the town of Livingston, crews used explosives to blast 1,500 feet of containment lines in the most-rugged terrain. The 26,500-acre fire was considered 45 percent contained Monday.
South of Livingston, off-duty firefighters held a brief memorial service honoring three men who died Friday when their helicopter crashed north of Yellowstone National Park.
A more than 800-acre fire near Yellowstone’s north entrance was expected to be contained by Monday evening.
At least 18 major fires still active Monday had burned about 150,000 acres in other Western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. The center said crews were close to containing most of the largest fires.
On the Net:
National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov/
Northern Rockies Coordination Center: http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/fire/nrcc/
Glacier National Park: http://www.nps.gov/glac/resources/fires.htm
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