The Sperry Chalet was gutted by fire. Lake McDonald Lodge was evacuated. The west side of the Sun Road was closed to Logan Pass.
It was an historically awful week in Glacier National Park as the Sprague Fire, which has grumbled around in the mountains above Lake McDonald Lodge for weeks, went on massive runs.
The greatest loss came on the evening of Aug. 31, when the 104-year-old Sperry Chalet was lost to the fire. The chalet, perched 6.5 miles up the Gunsight Pass Trail at the base of Gunsight Peak, was a home away from home for many hikers and Park enthusiasts.
“A highly skilled group of firefighters were staged at the Sperry Chalet over the last week. Those firefighters had an extensive hose lay, sprinkler, and pump system installed to protect all of the structures associated with the chalet. The high winds experienced this afternoon pushed the fire to the east. The firefighters, supported by three helicopters, made a valiant stand to save the structure but were unsuccessful in saving the main Sperry Chalet,” the Sprague Fire incident command announced at 6:45 p.m. the night of the blaze.
There were six firefighters at the Sperry complex at the time of the fire and four helicopters making bucket drops. The firefighters were able to get out a fire on the roof of the dining hall, but as the wind whipped the embers onto the buildings, they noticed smoke coming out of one of the upper windows of the chalet dormitory. Almost immediately, flames rocketed out of a window.
Firefighters, breaking safety protocol, reportedly tried to fight the fire from inside the structure, but to no avail.
No one was injured. The remaining buildings were saved.
Fire information officer Diane Sine said the chalet was not fully wrapped with protective material and was not treated with a fire suppressant gel commonly used on homes in wildfires. The chalet did have some wrap on its lower level, but wrapping the upper floors wasn’t possible, she said, because of its height and size.
She said logistically, it is difficult to wrap a building the size of the chalet. Each roll of the fire resistant material weighs about 100 pounds and the crew couldn’t get to the top of the two-story building.
She said using the gel also presents difficulties, as it has to be maintained and hauled to the site.
Sprinklers were in place and firefighters did wet the roof.
Glacier Park deputy superintendent Eric Smith later said the firefighters’ role was to keep the fire off buildings. They weren’t equipped to fight a fire inside of a building.
A full investigation is planned. The chalet, being government property, is not insured, but some of the items inside the building may have been insured through concessionaire Belton Chalets.
Smith said the Park plans on doing an assessment once the fire is out on what needs to be done to preserve the remains, if they can be preserved, through the winter.
The stone portion of the building is still standing, like a ghost in the hills.
The Sprague Fire is far from out and things could get worse before they get better. On Sunday night, Sept. 3, pushed by a violent east wind, the fire went on a great run, growing by roughly 8,000 acres. The Sun Road was closed to Logan Pass on the west side and the entire north end of Lake McDonald was evacuated. While the fire burned to the south, it did not drop down the north face of Mount Brown or Snyder Ridge to the Sun Road, where it could threaten the Lake McDonald Lodge complex and the Park’s 500-year-old stands of old-growth cedar and hemlock forests.
Both local firefighters with structure protection engines and wildland firefighters were staged at the lodge.
As of presstime, the fire was roughly 13,300 acres. A week ago it was 1,500 acres. The fire was started by lightning on Aug. 10. Despite water drops at the time from helicopters, firefighters weren’t able to get it out, and it sputtered at less than 100 acres for days in steep, inaccessible terrain.
So far it has burned over the Snyder Lake campground, the Lincoln Lake campground, the Sperry chalet area and has burned into Walton Creek as well. The trails to those campgrounds are burned over as well as is the Mount Brown Lookout Trail. The Mount Brown Lookout has not been lost in the fire. The Harrison Lake backcountry campground and trail have been closed as a precaution.
The Camas Road and the east side of the Sun Road remain open. Apgar Village is open as well.
The fire woes continue across the region. It was announced that 40 buildings and 10 homes were lost in the Caribou Fire near Eureka over the weekend as the Hungry Horse News went to press.
Multiple fires are burning in Northwest Montana. The largest and highest priority is the Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake, which is now more than 100,000 acres and threatens the town.
The weather isn’t expected to help through the week, with chances of wet and dry thunderstorms through the weekend. Next week is expected to be warm and dry as well, with no appreciable rain in sight, the National Weather Service is predicting.