WEST GLACIER — Fire conditions at Glacier National Park improved Friday afternoon.
After a fly-over, the size of the largest fire burning in the park was reduced from an estimated 80 acres to 10 acres.
Helicopters were used to drop water and insert firefighters on the Sprague Fire with the promise of additional resources on the way.
The detection flight confirmed that three fires were started from a thunderstorm that produced about 150 strikes in the McDonald Lake area Thursday night.
The Rogers Fire was estimated at 2 acres, but it wasn’t producing much smoke at all when the air crew flew over it at midday. A new start detected near Howe Lake was estimated at about a tenth of an acre.
Fire conditions in the park are rated extreme. Fire managers expect the hot and dry conditions to last at least through the weekend. They could be exacerbated by a red flag warning, which has been issued for western Montana Saturday.
Glacier Park officials closed Sperry Chalet when the Sprague Fire appeared to threaten the main trail into the popular tourist attraction.
Guests were told they would either have to hike out via the Gunsight Pass Trail or remain in place while the Sprague Fire was being assessed. People with reservations for Friday night will not be able to access the chalet. The chalet is not in immediate danger.
Glacier also closed a number of trails, including the Apgar Lookout Trail, Howe Ridge Trail, Camas Trail, Trout Lake Trail, the Sperry Trail from Lake McDonald to Sperry Chalet (including all secondary trails such as the Snyder Trail), John’s Lake Trail, and Lincoln Lake Trail.
Backcountry trails in those areas are closed and users are being escorted out. Backcountry campgrounds affected by the closures include Arrow, Camas, Snyder, Sperry, and Lincoln campgrounds.
All of those closures remained in place late Friday afternoon.
Other backcountry areas in the park are open to day use, but no new overnight backcountry permits were issued Friday as a precaution while the park searches for other new fires potentially started by Thursday’s storm.
Most backcountry areas in the park remain open, including areas in the North Fork that had been closed earlier this week after initial attack efforts on about eight fires started by a storm earlier this week were successful in either containing or putting out the blazes.
On Thursday, the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group made the decision to place the country on its highest level for preparedness.
Preparedness Level 5 means that nearly all firefighting suppression resources and people are committed.
In an Aug. 16 memo, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said the decision to move to the highest level of preparedness reflects the complexity of fires facing firefighters.
“There are currently more than 15,000 interagency firefighting personnel deployed in 10 geographic areas,” Zinke wrote. “Based on this level of wildfire activity, and to meet existing challenges, I am asking that all DOI supervisors make all qualified personnel immediately available for assignments.
"If your employees are red carded and available to assist in any capacity, their first priority should be response to fire incidents.”
For those not qualified for assignments, Zinke said those employees should provide backup for those accepting fire assignments.
Montana is currently in the bulls-eye of fire activity in the country.
There are 12 large fires burning the state. Three Type 1 and six Type 2 teams are assigned to manage many of the nearly 4,000 firefighting personnel working on wildfires in Montana.
The evacuation warning for the Lolo Peak fire was expanded Friday afternoon to include both the north and south sides of Highway 12 near Lolo between mile post 20 at Bear Creek to Fort Fizzle.
The expansion was due to the weekend's impending Red Flag warning. This is not an evacuation order, but a warning that evacuations may be needed.