Glacier National Park Sprague Fire Overview 09/14/17

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Sprague Fire from the shore of Lake McDonald at Apgar Village

Below is a brief overview of the major events involved in the growth of the Sprague Fire in Glacier National Park, from its beginning on August 10th, through today, September 14th at 3:40 pm.

On the evening of August 10th, 2017, lightning struck a tree covered slope near Crystal Ford above the Gunsight Pass Trail. This trail was the main trail to the Sperry Chalet, which is a historic back country National Historic Landmark located about 6 miles above the trail head at Lake McDonald Lodge. This was a direct hit in the heart of the Lake McDonald Area, where several historic buildings were in close proximity.

Lake McDonald Lodge

According to high level Glacier National Park officials, who we personally spoke with after the September 6th public meeting at West Glacier, because the fire conditions were so severe, the 2017 summer policy for ALL forest fires in Glacier Park was “put it out immediately” instead of the “let it burn” policy that is typically used for natural, lightning caused fires.

Canadian “Super Scooper” dropping water on Sprague Fire

So when the Sprague Fire was reported on the evening of August 10th, the next day eleven fire fighters rappelled out of helicoptors to attempt to fight it. Helicopters dropped 48,000 gallons of water the first day, and 98,000 gallons of water the second day, while the ground crew did what they could do to suppress the fire. According to Glacier Park officials, the fire became a tree fire almost immediately, and became a very hot fire shortly after it started. Unfortunately, the efforts made by the fire fighters proved to be ineffective in stopping the momentum of the Sprague Fire. And at this point, the NPS felt it was then too dangerous to bring in more personnel to fight the fire on the ground at that point in time. Several other lightning caused fires throughout the park during this period were successfully suppressed, but not the Sprague Fire.

Sperry Chalet

By the evening of August 10th (day five) the Sprague Fire grew to 100 acres, and the next day it doubled in size, and became a very serious force to be reckoned with from that point forward as this menacing Glacier Park fire was very close to the historic Sperry Chalet, the historic Lake McDonald Lodge and the historic Mount Brown Lookout. Other concerns were the Trail of the Cedars, Avalanche Lake Trail and Avalanche Campground, which were only 6 miles down wind of the fire.

Sprague Fire

The Sprague Fire in Glacier National Park continued to grow, and on August 31st the winds picked up and the fire aggressively made its way up the slopes toward the Sperry Chalet. At approximately 6:00 pm that evening, the Sperry Chalet was overtaken by fire and burned to the ground. The six fire fighters on the ground assigned to protect this national historic landmark, and the four support helicopters, were unsuccessful in their attempt to save it. The fire doubled in size on that fateful day, growing from 2,549 acres to 4,646 acres by that evening.  On a personal note, we were devastated by the news, just as everyone who has ever spent time at this charming back country chalet.  Truly a rare, national treasure was lost that night, and there will forever be a deep dark “hole” where the Sperry Chalet once stood for over one hundred years.

Sperry Chalet

With the loss of the Sperry Chalet and due to the dramatic growth of the fire, officials dramatically ramped up the fire fight. Their immediate concern was the possibility of losing the historic Lake McDonald Lodge, which was less than two miles from the advancing Sprague Fire.

Lake McDonald Lodge

On September 3rd, because a major wind shift was predicted in the forecast, there was an evacuation order issued for the Lake McDonald Lodge area and north lake area.  At 9:00 pm a strong east wind hit the area, causing the Sprague Fire to essentially blow up and reaching 9,403 acres before the winds subsided. All structures remained intact, and the fire remained one mile from the historic lodge. Sophisticated water systems, including “Rain for Rent”, at Lake McDonald Lodge, Trail of the Cedars boardwalk and Avalanche Campground, and have been dowsing these areas ever since to hopefully protect these areas in the event of an aggressive run by the Sprague Fire.

Super Scooper fighting the Sprague Fire

The fire continued to grow, even with an aggressive fire fight with two Canadian “Super Scoopers” and multiple helicopters, and on September 13th, because yet another threat of a wind shift, an evacuation warning was issued for Apgar Village and most of West Glacier. This wind shift was caused by a system bringing in hopefully moisture in the form of both rain and snow, as well as cold temperatures. This system is possibly the break everyone was hoping for.

Sprague Fire at dusk

Today is September 14th, 2017, and the cold weather has come into the area. Fortunately wind shift the evening before did not create much fire growth, however the evacuation warning is still in effect. As far as precipitation, there has been very little as of 3:49 pm this afternoon, but it’s early and everyone is still hopeful. The cold air has dramatically increased the humidity, which will very much help slow the fire down in and of itself.

Trail of the Cedars

In the days ahead, we will continue to keep our readers informed on what is undoubtedly one of the most potentially destructive fires Glacier National Park has experienced in recent years. Hopefully the continued aggressive fire fight by our brave and tireless fire fighters, in combination with colder and wetter conditions, the Sprague Fire will be contained… with hopefully all remaining structures and iconic destinations intact.

CLICK HERE for official information and current updates on the Sprague Fire.

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