Violent thunderstorm wracks Glacier National Park with lightning fires; Park closes backcountry campgrounds including coveted Sperry Trail, chalet

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Smoke from a fire above Sprague Creek in Glacier National Park wafts over the high peaks near Lake McDonald Friday morning.

A violent storm that moved through Glacier National Park Thursday evening triggered about 150 lightning strikes throughout the Park, sparking multiple fires.

The thunderstorm also had heavy rain, but it was brief — lasting about 10 minutes. The wind blew so hard that the falling trees on Apgar Mountain sounded like thunder. Apgar burned in 2003 and has thousands of standing dead snags, 14 years later.

The windstorm also led to numerous power outages in Northwest Montana, according to Flathead Electric.

A Glacier Park spokesman said fires are suspected or known in the Apgar Lookout area, the Nyack area, Sprague drainage, and Camas drainage. The Sprague drainage fire was reported at 80 acres Friday morning. Smoke from the fire was drifting over the high peaks that rim Lake McDonald. The fire size was later downgraded to 10 acres.

The following trails are closed: Apgar Lookout Trail, Howe Ridge Trail, Camas Trail, Trout Lake Trail, the Sperry Trail from Lake McDonald to Sperry Chalet (including all secondary trails such as Snyder Trail), John’s Lake Trail and Lincoln Lake Trail.

Backcountry campgrounds in the areas listed above are closed and backcountry users in those areas are being walked out. Those include Arrow, Camas, Snyder, Sperry and Lincoln backcountry campgrounds.

There were small fires (less than 2 acres) on Howe Ridge, Camas Ridge, Rogers Peak and Mount Vaught. The Rogers Peak was the largest of the bunch at 2 acres. Apgar Mountain also had a report of smoke.

Other backcountry areas in the park are still open for day use. No new overnight backcountry permits will be issued today to reduce the number of people overnighting in the backcountry while the park assesses the impacts from last night’s storm.

Sperry Chalet guests will either hike out via the Gunsight Pass Trail, or remain in place while the Sprague fire is being assessed. Guests with reservations for tonight will not be able to access the chalet. Additional updates will be available as the fire is further evaluated. The structures in the Sperry Chalet complex are not immediately threatened, however the main trail accessing the chalet may be impacted by the fire.

No horseback rides will depart from the Lake McDonald Corral today.

A Type III incident commander has been assigned and additional resources are being ordered. The initial attack for these fires is being managed with park and Flathead National Forest fire management staff and law enforcement, including air support.

Most areas of the park remain open including all areas of the North Fork (all closures have been lifted from earlier this week), Apgar Village, the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Granite Park Chalet, Two Medicine, St. Mary, and Many Glacier.

Fire managers expect hot and dry conditions to persist through the weekend. Additional trail closures are possible as conditions change or new fires are detected. Visitors should check the park’s trail status page for the most current closure information.

Wind also caused problems in the Flathead Valley Thursday night. About 2,763 Flathead Electric Cooperative members were without power Friday morning after a brief but powerful wind storm hit the region Thursday evening.

According to FEC spokeswoman Wendy Ostrom-Price, the outages stretched from north of Evergreen, into Columbia Falls and up U.S. 2 past West Glacier.

The power was restored in Columbia Falls and the Canyon about 9:30 a.m.

About 1,700 co-op members in Whitefish were without power for a few hours on Thursday night. Power was resorted to that area by about 9:30 p.m.

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