Crews Scramble To Contain 3,000-Acre Fire In Glacier National Park

Crews Scramble To Contain 3,000-Acre Fire In Glacier National Park

6:31pm Jul 28, 2015

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A fire in Montana's Glacier National Park is burning 3,200 acres and is now 45 percent contained. Emergency crews from around the country are working to get the fire under control. Montana Public Radio's Corin Cates-Carney reports that parts of the park are still open, but that's no comfort to would-be visitors.

CORIN CATES-CARNEY, BYLINE: More than 650 people are fighting the fire burning along St. Mary Lake, the eastern gateway to Glacier National Park. Andy Huntsberger is a firefighter and incident commander. He says the mountains to the north block the fire's growth in that direction, but to the east, the fire has room to expand toward the townsite of St. Mary.

ANDY HUNTSBERGER: And the east is probably our area of greatest concern because the predominant winds blow from the West to the East here. And there is a band of vegetation that is continuous from where the fire is currently at all the way to St. Mary and beyond.

CATES-CARNEY: As news of the fire on the east side of Glacier National Park spreads, some visitors there are packing their bags and heading west, taking their tourism dollars with them. Tammi Ray co-owns Red Eagle Motel three minutes away from the St. Mary Visitor Center that was evacuated when the fire began. Ray says media coverage of the fire, more than the fire danger itself, is what's provoking people to leave.

TAMMI RAY: They're hearing on different sites and everything that St. Mary's been evacuated, you know, that they can't get into Glacier Park at all and the smoke is bad.

CATES-CARNEY: Several campgrounds, a motor inn and backcountry hikers have been evacuated in the park, but the fire is still miles away from the townsite of St. Mary. Even though Ray is telling guests of the safety of her location, they still want to leave or cancel reservations.

RAY: They'll call and they'll ask, you know, what's the status of the fire? And right now we're in no danger and - I mean, now that they're fighting it. But they just don't understand. They just want to - you know, they just cancel.

CATES-CARNEY: Glacier National Park spans more than a million acres, and most of it isn't burning. Randy Hohf, who works for the Glacier National Park Conservancy's visitor center on the west side, says visitors still have plenty of options.

RANDY HOHF: Most of the most popular trails - Avalanche Creek is still open. The Loop Trail is still open. And so even from this side, most of the trails are still open.


CATES-CARNEY: Eric Rowe, a lead guide with Glacier Raft Company, helps co-workers load up boats for river trips. Glacier Raft is on the west side of the park, away from the fire.

ERIC ROWE: As soon as that fire lit up, we saw a lot of folks headed over this way.

CATES-CARNEY: Glacier Raft owner Darwon Stonemen says his company earns a big chunk of its income this time of the year.

DARWON STONEMEN: I figure, you know, we earn 90 percent of our income from June 20 to August 20, so it's really important to get, you know, the next three or four weeks in here.

CATES-CARNEY: Stonemen says an event as seemingly insignificant as a rainy day can keep tourists away. So when thousands of acres in the park are burning, it's cause for businesses around the park to worry. To give updates on the fire and to combat the concern of dipping tourism numbers, Glacier Park launched a Twitter campaign to let people know that most of Glacier is still open. Before the fire, the park was on pace to pass last year's record-setting attendance number of 2.3 million visitors. For NPR News, I'm Corin Cates-Carney in Whitefish, Mont. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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