NYT: America’s fire spotters aren’t ready to fade away just yet

Leif Haugen with his morning coffee at the Thoma lookout post in the Flathead National Forest, Mont - NYT photo
Leif Haugen with his morning coffee at the Thoma lookout post in the Flathead National Forest, Mont – NYT photo

Lots of familiar faces and places, not to mention some impressive photography . . .

If, on a hot, dry day a fire should break out within a certain 300,000-acre patch of northwest Montana, in an expanse of backcountry between the crest of the Whitefish Range and the glacier-carved peaks that hug the Continental Divide, there’s a good chance Leif Haugen will be the first person on Earth to see it.

For the better part of an hour, he might be the only person.

Mr. Haugen has worked for more than half of his 52 years as a fire lookout, scanning the larch and pine wilderness from a one-room mountaintop cabin. Alone most of the time but for his thoughts, his mutt, Ollie, and the occasional crackle of voices on the radio, he is part of a nationwide band of professional watchers who, like lighthouse keepers, stand on solitary guard between civilization and nature’s uncaring whims.

More and more, he stands at another divide, too: between human jobs and automation. As land managers seek new tools to deal with the threat of catastrophic wildfires, which is rising in the West as the planet warms and Americans build more homes near overgrown forests and other vulnerable places, the days of lookouts might be numbered.

Continue reading . . .

Glacier National Park Fall Operation Adjustments for 2023

Mountain goat kid - NPS photo, Tim Rains
Mountain goat kid – NPS photo, Tim Rains

From the official press release, here’s the word on Glacier Park’s fall schedule . . .

WEST GLACIER, Mont. [September 1, 2023] – As the autumn season approaches, operations in the park will start winding down. On September 10, the park’s 2023 vehicle reservation pilot will end.

Continue reading Glacier National Park Fall Operation Adjustments for 2023

Accident at hairpin curve just north of Moose Creek Road

Rock crusher wreck at hairpin north of Whale Creek Road, Sep 1, 2023 - photo courtesy of Randy Kenyon
Rock crusher wreck at hairpin north of Whale Creek Road, Sep 1, 2023 – photo courtesy of Randy Kenyon

(Update, The rock crusher was winched back up on the road and parked to one side by a pair of monster tow trucks.)

Here’s what I’ve got so far on the accident at the hairpin curve just north of Moose Creek Road…

According to Randy Kenyon, whose house is being used for phone communications, a rock crusher being transported to the Whale Creek pit by the road contractor working on the project at the top end of the North Fork Road fell off its trailer as the driver attempted to navigate the hairpin curve north of the Moose Creek area. They’ve managed to clear the road through that section, but the rock crusher, a 105,000 pound piece of equipment, is sitting just off the road and will require a crane to retrieve it. At some point, the road will be blocked while the crane is in use. I have no information at this time when that will happen.

There were no injuries other than wounded pride.

Last Friday Community Pizza Party is a go for Aug 25th!

The Last Friday Community Pizza Party is on! Come and Join your neighbours at Aug 25th at 6 pm at the Rittenburg’s. Thanks to the great team of pizza base makers, Joyce, Melissa , Pat and Jackie who made 60 bases using the old O’Hara original Saloon recipe. The regular professional chefs will be cooking thanks to John Stone, Jim and Jack .The Ooni pizza ovens have been converted to propane to comply with Stage 2 Fire Restrictions, Bring your chair, drinks, a smile, any house guests who are staying and some toppings to share.

New Addition Sept 29th at 5pm End of Summer Pizza party on the banks of the river at Ford, the colors should be beautiful and the crowds gone. Let us know if you are coming for this one so we can guesstimate the number of pizza bases to make.

East Fork Fire Lifts Mandatory Evacuation

From the official press release . . .

The Evacuation Order issued on August 18, 2023, for all properties North of mile marker 146 on Highway 93 to mile marker 157.9 — Lincoln/Flathead County line, and the Residents of Good Creek Road, and those who access Good Creek west to the Lincoln County line have been downgraded to a PRE-EVACUATION WARNING and will be effective at 02:00 p.m. on Sunday, August 20, 2023.

All PRE-EVACUATION warnings issued on Thursday, August 17, 2023, are still in effect.

Residents may return to their homes under a Pre-Evacuation Warning but may need to leave again on short notice if required. An Evacuation Order may need to be reissued; however, if that is deemed necessary, the Evacuation Order process will re-commence.

For the most current information regarding evacuation status please visit https://flathead.mt.gov/department-directory/oes/emergency-management/east-fork-fire-information or call the Flathead County Office of Emergency Services Public Information Line at 406-758-2111.

NPS seeks public input to help improve visitor experiences at Glacier National Park

Camas Road in Glacier NP as seen from Glacier View Mtn, April 16, 2017 - W. K. Walker
Camas Road in Glacier NP as seen from Glacier View Mtn, April 16, 2017 – W. K. Walker

OK, everyone. Here’s your chance to chime in!

From the official press release . . .

WEST GLACIER, Mont. [August 16, 2023] – Glacier National Park is seeking public feedback through September 30, 2023, on how visitors will access and experience the park in 2024. The park will host a series of virtual and in-person public meetings in late August to provide information from the past vehicle reservation pilot programs and answer questions. The public input from this process will be used to inform a strategy for summer 2024.

Over the past two decades, annual visitation at Glacier National Park has increased from approximately 1.5 million to over 3 million. Much of this use is concentrated along the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor and other front-country destinations during the peak season of June through September.

The park is in the third summer of piloting a vehicle reservation system for major park entrances. The pilots were initiated in summer 2021 as a response to increasing issues with traffic congestion including backups onto US Highway 2, infrastructure capacity, and impacts to park resources from high concentrations of people in the most popular areas of the park. Ongoing pilot reservation systems in summers 2022 and 2023 have provided opportunities to learn more and explore their viability in achieving desired conditions in the park.

Since the park initiated the pilot, it has collected and analyzed visitor use data, as well as feedback from the local community and others, to refine the parameters of the reservation system and continue to improve the visitor experience.

“We have learned a lot from the last three years of pilot reservation systems,” said Park Superintendent Dave Roemer. “We’d like to hear from the public about what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and what ideas they have for managing high visitation at Glacier for 2024. We are listening, and truly need that input before we begin to develop a strategy for next summer.”

There are several opportunities to learn more about this public engagement process and ask park staff questions. Scheduled meetings include:

Wednesday, August 23-Virtual meeting from 6 to 8 pm. Join by following the link at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/MeetingNotices.cfm?projectID=118357

Monday, August 28-Open house from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at the St. Mary Visitor Center on the east side of the park.

Tuesday, August 29-Open house from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at the Cedar Creek Lodge in Columbia Falls.

“The goal of this effort is to provide the best possible access while protecting the park and ensuring visitors have meaningful and enjoyable experiences,” Roemer said. “This work is central to the National Park Service mission, and we are looking forward to continued engagement with our partners, communities, tribes, and park friends to make sure that happens.”

The project website provides a summary of key issues, the history of visitation and visitor use management in the park, and instructions for how to formally submit comments.


Increased fire activity on Doris Point visible from Flathead Valley

From the official press release . . .

Kalispell, MT, August 15, 2023 — Smoke from the Doris Fire is visible from the Flathead Valley this afternoon as fire behavior has increased due to high temperatures and gusty winds. Smoke columns from several fires will be visible throughout this afternoon and evening as hot and dry weather is forecasted to continue into Thursday evening’s Fire Weather Watch.

The Doris Point Fire was lightning-caused and was detected on July 30. It is located on the west side of Hungry Horse Reservoir, within the current area closure. At this time, the fire is in a remote location and is not burning near any homes or private property. Fire managers are continuing to assess the situation and more information will be provided as it becomes available. California Interagency Incident Management Team 4 is taking command of the Doris Point Fire at 6:00 am tomorrow, August 16, in addition to the Ridge Fire. Team 4 took command of the Ridge Fire on August 9.

South of the Doris Point Fire, there is potential to see an increase in activity from the Tin Solider Complex this evening and throughout the rest of the week as warm temperatures persist. The Tin Soldier Complex fires are burning on the West Side of the Hungry Horse Reservoir and South Fork of the Flathead River. The smoke columns from this complex will potentially be visible from the Flathead Valley, south of the current column that can be seen from the Doris Point Fire.

Top five miles of North Fork Road now closed to non-essential traffic

The long-planned work on the upper five miles of the North Fork Road and on the segment of Glacier Drive between the Polebridge Mercantile and the Glacier Park entrance station is actually in progress this year. As expected, it is causing significant disruptions.

As mentioned in an earlier article on the NFLA website, the upper five miles of the North Fork Road was closed as of today, August 7th, to all but essential traffic, with likely delays of up to half an hour. If you are not a resident or someone with a really good reason to be up there, you won’t be allowed through. Also, the contractor will be running a weekend shift for the next two weekends, so the travel delays will be in effect for the next 14 days straight. If everything goes more or less as planned, this project will wrap up by mid-October.

Flathead National Forest Fire Update for August 3, 2023

Glacier View Fire from Huckleberry Lookout, August 2, 2023
Glacier View Fire from Huckleberry Lookout, August 2, 2023

From the latest press release, here’s the  status for fires throughout the Flathead National Forest, including links to supplemental material . . .

Kalispell, MT, August 3, 2023 — As hot and dry weather conditions continue, firefighters continue working to contain several fires on the Flathead National Forest. Area closures are now in place for public and firefighter safety associated with the Tin Soldier Complex, the Ridge Fire, and the Stadium Creek Fire. Fire danger is extreme, and Stage II Fire Restrictions will go into effect at 12:01am Saturday, August 5th, 2023.

The Tin Soldier Complex (comprised of the Sullivan, Kah Mountain, and Bruce Fires) is currently estimated at 2,061 acres. Firefighting crews are engaging in point source protection of values at risk, setting up sprinklers and hose and enhancing fuel breaks with heavy equipment around private property and around the Spotted Bear Ranger Station. Fire personnel are conducting initial assessments and preparations for structure protection.

The Con Kelly Mountain Fire, previously included in the Tin Soldier Complex, is now successfully controlled and firefighters will be transported off-site by aircraft.

The Ridge Fire is now estimated at 633 acres. Due to the hot and dry weather conditions, the fire is actively burning on all sides in steep terrain with heavy dead and down fuels with smoke visible from Highway 2 and Hungry Horse, MT. Firefighting crews are working to establish fuel breaks along FS Road 38 and removing combustible materials around the Desert Mountain communication towers. Aerial resources are assisting firefighting efforts by reducing the fire spread.

The Glacier View Fire is human caused, estimated at 3.5 acres. Firefighters have completed containment line and are now working to reduce heat along the edge of the fire perimeter. The interior area of the fire is still producing smoke but poses no threat at this time.

The Doris Point Fire is estimated at 4 acres (growth of 3.5) based on aerial observation on August 3. The fire is burning on 80-90% slope in thick timber and vegetation with prevalent large-diameter dead trees and is not threatening any values at risk.

The Stadium Creek and Alcove Fires are in and just outside of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, respectively, and are not threatening any values at risk.

The East Fork Fire on the Kootenai National Forest is less than a mile from the boundary of the Flathead National Forest, Tally Lake Ranger District. It is currently estimated at 453 acres with very active fire behavior yesterday, including group torching and spotting in heavy timber and subalpine fir. Firefighting crews will continue to construct indirect line and shaded fuel breaks around the fire perimeter with aircraft working to slow fire behavior while equipment establishes an anchor on the fire.

Area Closures:

Tin Soldier Complex Closure Order 01-10-04-23-13: The closure area encompasses the southern portion of the Hungry Horse Reservoir from the Jewel Basin Hiking Area boundary west of the reservoir to the mountain ridgeline from Prospector Mountain along the Great Bear and Bob Marshall Wilderness boundaries to Inspiration Point in section 4 T23N R16W. The waters of Hungry Horse Reservoir within this boundary are included in the closure area.

All roads and trails within the closure are closed to the public, including two additional trails:

  • NFS Trail #7 (Alpine 7) from the junction with NFS Trail #10 (Six Mile Trail), south to the Junction with NFS Trail #31(Napa Point Trail).
  • Spotted Bear River Trail #2 from the Wilderness Boundary to its junction with NFS Trail #173 (Pentagon Creek).

NFS Trail #64 and NFS Road 895F are not part of the closure and remain open.

A map of the described area is here.

Ridge Fire Closure Order 01-10-04-23-14: The closure area encompasses National Forest System (NFS) Road 497 and NFS Road 38 in section 3 T31N R19W, Emery Creek, the Coram Experimental Forest, Desert Mountain, and continues east to the Great Bear Wilderness boundary.

A map of the described area is here.

Stadium Creek Closure Order 01-10-04-23-15: The closed area encompasses Gorge Creek drainage within the Bob Marshall Wilderness area, including Feather, Inspiration, Gorge, Canyon Trickle, and Stadium Creeks.
All roads and trails within the closure are closed to the public. The closure includes:

– NFS Trail #105
– NFS Trail # 107
– NFS Trail #218

A map of the described area is here.

Stage II Restrictions will go into effect at 12:01am Saturday, August 5th, 2023, across the Flathead National Forest, Kootenai National Forest, Glacier National Park, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation – Northwestern Land Office, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 1, and Lake County, Lincoln County, Flathead County, and Sanders County.

There are no new fires in the Swan Lake Ranger District. No new fire starts were reported today on the Flathead National Forest as of 2:00pm.

Glacier View Fire causes closure of North Fork Road

RV fire north of Big Creek Campground, August 2, 2023 – Diane Boyd

Final update (via Diane Boyd): Yesterday afternoon (Aug 2), an elderly gal from Idaho pulled her RV off to the side of the North Fork Road because she had smoke coming out from under it. In short order, it was fully engulfed in flame, which spread to the nearby vegetation. Forest Service crews had to spend several hours extinguishing a roughly 4-acre blaze and this poor lady’s vacation literally went up in smoke. Diane was the second person on-scene and saw to it that the fire was reported. I’ve attached a photo she took.

[UPDATE, 8:20pm: The fire should be contained by nightfall.]

At about 5:30pm, August 2, Kevin Ulrichsen reported in over the radio…

The Glacier View fire has caused closure of the North Fork Road south of the Camas intersection. According to Kevin, an RV/camper fire at Big Creek Campground got out of hand. He said a couple of helicopters were on scene, as well as some other equipment. The fire size is listed as 3.67 acres. See attached map for an approximate location.

Note: The position in the map may be a bit off. If the fire started in Big Creek Campground, it is actually about 0.6 miles (1km) due south of the location displayed on the map. (I.e., they got the longitude right, but not the latitude.)