Archive for Sunday, September 2, 2001

Western wildfires spread to Glacier National Park

High winds drive blazes, mar firefighting efforts

September 2, 2001

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— A wind-driven wildfire exploded overnight Friday, more than doubling in size, as it burned into Glacier National Park and threatened upscale homes.

The fire expanded on all sides, wiping out containment lines that firefighters had established in the previous week as it grew from 19,000 acres on Friday to 46,000 acres by Saturday morning, information officer Wayne Johnson said. That included 6,000 acres inside the west edge of the park.

More than 1,000 firefighters were battling the blaze Saturday, as winds gusted up to 40 mph.

"This fire is going to get extremely large," incident commander Larry Humphrey told some 200 area residents Friday night. "We could have the 5th Army in here and they couldn't stop it."

The flames near Glacier advanced five to six miles Friday as wind blew at 30 mph, grounding helicopters. On Saturday morning, the fire's leading edge was about 10 miles from the north end of Lake McDonald, where expensive houses stand, and eight miles from Apgar Campground near the park's west entrance.

Under the right conditions it could approach the park's headquarters at West Glacier, Humphrey said.

"This isn't a fire you just run in and put out," Humphrey said. 'It's going to take a long time."

Homeowners Jack and Regine Hoag calmly read the newspaper Saturday at their summer home a few steps from Lake McDonald.

"We feel vulnerable, but we don't feel panicked," Regine Hoag said.

Doug Miller, another homeowner, was planning to move his horses.

"The main thing is just don't panic. Fires have a life of their own," he said.

The Glacier fire was one of 22 major fires that had burned more than 222,000 acres Friday in the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

In southern Montana, near Yellowstone National Park, federal aviation officials were investigating Friday's crash of a firefighting helicopter that killed all three men on board.

Elsewhere in the West, the National Interagency Fire Center said firefighters had the upper hand and were close to containing most of the largest wildfires.

Both the northern California fire that last week threatened the small mining town of Weaverville and a 74,000-acre complex of fires in central Washington's Cascades were about 90 percent contained.

In Arizona, five lightning-caused wildfires had burned more than 1,200 acres around the Grand Canyon.

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