Northwest Montana’s long, hot fire season will likely end with a whimper by Thursday and will see even more rain and cold weather next week, the National Weather Service is predicting.
As the Hungry Horse News went to press, Tuesday was expected to be the last active fire day, with a red flag warning for high winds in the afternoon. Wednesday was expected to be cloudy and cooler and then a big change Thursday as a cold front from Alaska is predicted to sweep in.
Anywhere from a .25 to .5 inches of rain was expected by Friday, with highs only in the 50s at low elevations and 30s and 40s in higher terrain. Snow levels could drop down to 6,000 feet.
“The weather will certainly take a turn for the better,” National Weather Service meteorologist Corvy Dickerson said. He said east of the divide will probably see even more rain and the southern end of Glacier and the Bob Marshall Wilderness will also see additional amounts.
The weekend should be partly cloudy and cooler, with highs in the 50s and 60s and then another system with rain will roll in Monday through Wednesday of next week, Dickerson said.
The weather pattern looks to be a longterm change, Dickerson said.
“Looks like we’re flipping the switch to fall,” he said.
Last week the region was choked with smoke until Saturday, when the winds picked up. Sunday and Monday were both breezy active fire days.
The Sprague Fire, helped by 250,000 gallons of water dropped by aircraft, held to the crest of Snyder Ridge.
The fire burning in Glacier National Park is now listed at about 14,740 acres. On Sunday, two Canadian CL415 aircraft, known as “super scoopers” made 140 water drops on the blaze, which helped hold it to the ridge.
The aircraft scooped water out of Lake McDonald. They made runs about noon and then another later in the evening. Two helicopters also made drops on the fire. Three helicopters continued to make drops on Monday and Tuesday.
Fire managers’ goal was to keep the fire on the top of the ridge. If it dropped down, it could threaten Lake McDonald Lodge and the Park’s 500-year-old cedar forests, though a huge sprinkler system, called “rain for rent” had been installed near the lodge, soaking the area with water.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road remains closed on the west side, as do most west side trails. Apgar Village and the Camas Road remain open. Most of Glacier is still open, with access to Logan Pass from the east side.
Glacier Park superintendent Jeff Mow defended the Park’s initial response to the Sprague Fire. He said 46,000 gallons of water were dropped on the fire in the first day and 96,000 gallons on the second day. He noted that every lightning-caused fire from the storm that started the Aug. 10 blaze were full suppression fires.
Park firefighters responded to multiple starts and got most of them out.
Having fought the Red Bench Fire in 1988, Mow noted that the main difference with the Sprague Fire was the growth during the night. At Red Bench, crews were able to fight the fire at night, not so with Sprague, which has seen huge runs after dark.
He said Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke has requested a full outside investigation of the fire.
“An outside team will look at it,” Mow said. “And what we can learn from it.”
The loss of Sperry Chalet was a tough pill to swallow.
“Losing Sperry Chalet was very hard on everyone,” he said. “It felt like you lost a member of the family.”
The Park is lining up contractors and experts to access the damage at the chalet once the fire is out and they can get in there safely.
The Adair Peak Fire in Glacier, burning along Logging Lake, put up a large plume of smoke Monday. It was just under 3,000 acres. The Elder Creek Fire, burning up the North Fork along the Canadian border, was 282 acres inside the Park, but much larger in Canada.
Southwest winds were blowing it back into itself.