Red Eagle Fire in Glacier National Park Grows

August 2, 2006

Higher humidity, much cooler temperatures and a lack of significant wind have helped crews gain on a wildfire burning on the eastern side of Glacier National Park in Montana.

The fire, estimated at more than 22,000 acres or 34 square miles, did not grow substantially overnight, a fire information officer said Tuesday, and the cooler weather was making firefighting efforts much easier.

“We definitely needed that change in the weather,” said Kimberly Nelson. “It really helped with our firefighting efforts here. … We’re really hoping that with continued cooler temperatures and the higher humidity levels, we can start to get a handle on it.”

The Red Eagle fire spread rapidly over the weekend, fanned by strong winds and hot, dry temperatures, and forced the evacuation of a series of park campgrounds. Residents and visitors in the small town of St. Mary on the park’s eastern edge also were asked to leave, although officials said some residents stayed behind.

So far, no structures have been lost and there have been no reports of any injuries.

Nelson said fire managers hope to be able to reopen St. Mary soon, but did not say when that might occur. Another information officer, Pat McKelvey, said Monday evening that many structures were still considered threatened, including 87 residential properties, 90 commercial properties and nearly 40 other buildings.

The majority of the park remained open to visitors. Going-to-the-Sun Road in the park is open from the west entrance to Rising Sun, where visitors are being asked to turn around.

South of Livingston, the Big Creek fire, which destroyed three houses and at least three other buildings Sunday, was estimated at about 12,000 acres on Tuesday and 10 percent contained.

Tom Brockett is one of those whose homes were lost on Sunday. He barely escaped the fire, getting caught off guard when strong winds pushed the flamed toward his house.

“I have insurance,” Brockett said. “You can replace things in the house, but you can’t replace things that have sentimental value.”

Authorities warned residents of about 50 homes in the area to be prepared to evacuate if necessary, said information officer Marilyn Krause.

Fourteen people voluntarily left the area, and six were air lifted to safety after being trapped by the fire over the weekend.

The fire, burning in sage, grass and timber, was roughly 4 to 5 miles west-southwest of Emigrant and 2 to 3 miles from U.S. Highway 89.

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