Thursday, July 30, 2015

Glacier National Park : Fire!

Tuesday, July 21st ~ Today was an R & R day (Rest & Recovery) for me. With the elevation and the hiking yesterday, my body was saying "take a break" even though my mind and heart really wanted to take a hike, I listened to my body. It was after 1 o'clock before I left the campground and drove south along US 89 and turned onto the twisting, hilly, bumpy, Montana Highway 49 to the Two Medicine area. Although I had driven on highway 49 on a previous visit, I had never stopped at Two Medicine.

There were a lot of trails to hike in the area but I chose to walk along the shore of Two Medicine Lake and just sit now and then and enjoy the view. It was extremely windy and overcast. Also a bit chilly, particularly in the shade and along the lakeside. After an hour or so I headed back to the campground.

As I came over a hill and could see Saint Mary Lake, I also saw smoke on the other side and thought that it seemed awfully close to the campground.  When I got to the entrance station, I asked the attendant about the fire. He didn't even know there was one until I pointed it out! But given the fact that he faces the other way most of the time, how would he have known? Anyway, I made it back to my site and sat down for a few minutes, periodically looking over my shoulder and the ridge behind the site.

Within about half an hour of my arrival a park employee came around in her little golfcart and said the campground was being evacuated. The fire had jumped the road and was now on our side of the road about five miles distant. I looked around at all the sites and saw perhaps a dozen or so other people who happened to be in the campground. What about the RVs and tents and other gear in all of those other sites? I didn't know it then, but the road had already been closed to traffic at the Saint Mary entrance station.

I packed up my tent and chairs and went to the camp store to see if anyone knew anything more. No one did.

The camp store is located just outside of the entrance to Rising Sun campground. This was the view of the fire as I left the campground. It had apparently been reported at about 4 p.m. and was 2 acres in size at the time. It quickly grew to 500 acres within the first few hours.

I had stopped a Ranger driving through the campstore parking lot and asked if it would be okay to stay the night at the Visitors Center. He said there wouldn't be any problems since other people were already there, so that's where I went for the night.

This shot was taken about a mile east of the Rising Sun Campground. The dramatic effect of the sun behind the plume of smoke made it appear rather ominous.

The view from the Visitors Center (a portion of the building on the left) about an hour after evacuation from the campground. The Visitors Center was six miles from the Rising Sun campground so, at this time the fire was a little more than 10 miles away.

I ran into several of the people I had met at the campground. We had said hello in passing and I had talked with Leslie for a few minutes on Monday, so we "kind of" knew each other, at least they were familiar faces! Shown above are Steve, Leslie, Luri, and Bob. We spent the evening together sharing stories and food and quickly became camping friends. There were a few other people who joined us, and some others who came and went.

They all still had their gear at the campground and had missed being allowed to go in by just a few minutes. So they, and many others, were waiting and hoping to be able to get in and get their equipment later. The Visitors Center was closed up for the evening at its regular time but we were told the restrooms would be left open.

Lucky for us, the strong winds were keeping most of the smoke high aloft and sending it away from us. This shot makes the smoke look much closer than it actually was.

The smoke-filled air made for a rather dramatic and oddly beautiful sunset.

At about 10:30 p.m. we got word that the Rangers were going to create a caravan to allow campers to go into Rising Sun for 30 minutes to get their gear and get out. So my new friends got in line out on the highway and after a wait that seemed forever, a caravan of about 40 vehicles left for Rising Sun. An hour and a half later, they returned, happy to have their stuff in hand. They said it was pretty smokey in the campground but not as bad as they thought it would be.

Wednesday Morning, July 22nd ~ It was a restless night. I awoke several times during the night, thankful that the smoke wasn't any closer, thinking perhaps the fire was holding steady since the wind had died down considerably at sunset. But at about six or so I got up and out of the van and the air was filled with acrid smoke. You could taste it and it quickly stung the eyes.

The above photo was taken at about 6:30 a.m. At one point we could actually see flames shooting up from the area behind the hill on the right. The sun was behind my back casting its golden rays on the plume of smoke.

It started sprinkling for a few minutes, we even had a rainbow appear briefly. After saying goodbye to my new friends, I left Glacier National Park, taking US 89 south to highway 49, to US 2 where I found a lovely National Forest Campground near the Idaho border to stay for a few days.

I posted this link to the Wildfire Today blogpost on facebook. It was written on the 22nd but has been updated frequently with maps and details of the fire.

Published under a Creative Commons License.
Becky Wiseman, "Glacier National Park : Fire!" Kinexxions, posted July 30, 2015 ( : accessed [access date])

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