GLACIER NATIONAL PARK — Since it started Saturday, the Howe Ridge fire has sapped Glacier National Park visitation and torched historic properties. Now it could raise new challenges for the Sperry Chalet rebuilding effort.
While the Sperry Chalet trailhead remains behind a roadblock and off-limits to the general public, Glacier spokesperson Lauren Alley said in an email that “Sperry construction will continue as long as fire conditions allow.”
Glacier aims to enclose the burned-out structure by the onset of winter. But with federal agencies currently at Preparedness Level 5, the highest level of wildfire mobilization, Alley said that “the quantity of available helicopters may be impacted and interrupt their ability to fly up construction materials.”
“The next big push [in the rebuilding process] will be to airlift logs to the site," she said. "Getting these logs up to the construction site is critical to continue construction and to keep the project on schedule.
“Losing the ability to fly logs due to the fires will severely impact their ability to finish the Phase 1 work by the end of October.”
Going to the Sun Road construction work has also been halted, but Alley said HK Contractors may be able to resume some work if conditions and firefighting activities allow.
Meanwhile, some homeowners are being allowed to return to their properties around Lake McDonald.
The fire’s explosive growth Sunday prompted Glacier to evacuate Lake McDonald’s north end, home to several privately-owned getaways that predate Glacier’s 1910 establishment. The park is still assessing the damage, but confirmed Tuesday that, “while multiple buildings were saved, a number of structures were lost due to the extreme fire behavior.”
However, the park is allowing homeowners back on an individual basis, as conditions permit, to examine their properties, said Diane Sine, fire information officer for Glacier National Park.
One of the homeowners, Randy Harrison of Missoula, said Glacier allowed access to the Lake McDonald Lodge area during a two-hour window, but he has not been in the park since Sunday.
Sine said that the landowners will have the option to rebuild.
In addition to approximately 200 private buildings around Lake McDonald, the Park Service owns about 130 buildings on the lakeshore. Earlier this year, Glacier completed an environmental assessment on a management plan for seven historic retreats – including Wheeler Camp and part of Kelly’s Camp, both of which are known to have taken losses in the fire.
Asked about the rebuilding of park-owned properties, Sine said, “that will obviously be a discussion down the line, but…we have bigger priorities right now.”
Amid these concerns, some visitors kept coming Wednesday to the southern end of the lake, relaxing by the lakeshore and renting hiking equipment.
At Apgar Village, smoke drifted through the trees and hid all but the southernmost portion of Lake McDonald from view. The cluster of lodging, restaurants and stores near the West Glacier entrance has been placed on “Ready” status, according to a Wednesday morning press release. It said the first stage of the “Ready, Set, Go” fire protocol “entails creating defensible space around structures, assembling emergency supplies and belongings in a safe place, and planning escape routes, and making sure all residents in a home know the plan.”
According to the federal government’s InciWeb site, 78 personnel were active on the fire Wednesday morning. Temperatures through Thursday are expected to range from the upper 40s at night to the 80s during the day, with a calm southwest wind.