Weeks after Yosemite Valley closed due to wildfires for the first time in decades, parts of Glacier National Park in Montana have been evacuated due to an explosive fire. The Howe Ridge Fire “grew significantly” on Sunday according to a Facebook post by the park, the same day Glacier hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time in recorded history. The blaze has led the park to close portions of the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road from Apgar to Logan Pass, and to evacuate Lake McDonald Lodge and Avalanche Creek Campground around 9 pm local time on Sunday, reports Earther.
So far, firefighting efforts have consisted of planes dumping water, smoke-jumpers parachuting in, and attempts to access the fires on foot, but the blazes continue largely uncontained for now. Smoke continues to obscure views and fill the sky with noxious fumes.
As ash and other particulate matter falls from the sky, it could also add insult to injury for Glacier’s glaciers. Rising temperatures have caused the glaciers to recede and disappear over the course of the park’s history. The dark particles from wildfire smoke will absorb more sunlight, acting as a dark blanket that could cause the glaciers to melt even faster.
Eric Holthaus for Grist writes:
“In 1850, there were 150 glaciers in the area now known as Glacier National Park. Today there are 26. They’ve been there for 7,000 years — but in just a few decades, the glaciers of Glacier National Park will almost surely be gone. By then the park will need a new name. Glacier Memorial Park doesn’t have the same ring to it.”
Not only has it been hot, it’s been dry. According to the National Weather Service, Missoula, located about 130 miles south of Glacier, has gone 40 days without any measurable rain. If the streak continues for seven more days, it will set a record for the longest dry stretch (set last year).
“There are some places where if you dropped a match on the ground, it would catch on fire,” Nicky Ouellet, the Flathead Valley reporter for Montana Public Radio, told Earther. “It’s an accumulation of dried grass, dried twigs that would act as kindling.”
Western Montana is under a number of fire restrictions due to the hot, dry weather. Glacier is under a Stage I ban, which essentially means folks need to be more vigilant about campfires, smoking, fireworks, and off-roading. To the south of Glacier, a Stage II burn ban is in place, which means no fires, fireworks, smoking outdoors, or off-roading.