Glacier National Park ordered an evacuation of the Fish Creek Campground Sunday and warned people in Apgar to be ready to leave after the Howe Ridge fire grew to more than 7,800 acres.
Fire information officer Jean Tabbert said Sunday afternoon the fire was about a half-mile west of Going to the Sun Road and 3.5 miles north of the Fish Creek Campground.
Weather predictions over the next 24 to 36 hours call for thunderstorms with increasing winds that could shift directions, heightening the fire's ability to spread quickly.
"This could significantly affect fire behavior on the southern and western flanks of the fire,'' according to the park. "Smoke yesterday over the fire perimeter prohibited air resources from dropping water on the fire.''
Brothers Craig and Sean Simpson, and their father Henry, were among those evacuated from their campground Sunday morning.
“It’s kind of scary, being woken up and told you have to evacuate,” Craig said. But Sean commended Glacier staff for their handling of the situation. “They got us out with plenty of time to be safe, and we felt taken care of.”
The family members had arrived from New England on Saturday. While they had to relocate to Apgar Campground and cancel their plans to hike in the North Fork, they still planned to stay for five nights, if they were able.
The Simpsons were among a thin trickle of guests walking and driving through Apgar Village. The haze, and its campfire smell, hung heavy in the air, and only a tiny sliver of Lake McDonald was visible.
Glacier Outfitters remained open for business, albeit with far fewer customers than normal.
“The smoke is what’s affecting us,” explained co-owner Shelby Handlin Hampton, deterring Glacier visitors from the outdoor activities that her shop supports. She predicted that “as soon as this smoke blows to the north, it’s going to be fine.”
In her view, however, the fire will subdue visitation for quite some time. “The smoke is killing business right now, and the fear is killing business for the future,” she said.
Twenty-five miles north of Apgar, Polebridge also was shrouded in smoke. But it was still a sought-after way station for those passing through the remote northwest portion of Glacier.
"We've actually gotten a little bit busier," said Cherstin Liny, lead bartender at the Northern Lights Saloon, in between serving backpackers and fire personnel. With other parts of the park closed, "we have a lot of the traffic filtering over this way."
One of those stopped was a bicyclist from northern California who was riding from Canmore, Alberta, to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, on a four-week bike tour. He'd begun the journey with a larger group on Aug. 14, and said that "it's been hazy like this constantly."
"I thought California was the only state that's on fire, until I landed in Canada and Banff was on fire, and now Montana's on fire, too,'' said the cyclist, Nico K., who did not want his full name used.
He was one of several intrepid people pedaling through the haze on Camas Creek Road, some of whom had wrapped bandanas around their lower faces. "We're all certainly very concerned about our health," he said, but "I personally don't think it's getting in the way."
Jim Coolidge, currently a part-time worker at the Polebridge Mercantile, is no stranger to these risks. "I got burned out in the Red Bench fire about 30 years ago," he said. "It just keeps going."
But, like Handlin, he said a fire can leave a lasting impression on visitors.
"You try and tell them...'Next year it'll be better,' and then you run into a guy who was here two years ago and says it was bad then."
The Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Team had crews working around structures in the Fish Creek Campground area and along the Inside North Fork Road to reduce fuels and to set up sprinkler systems, according to the park. Crews also are installing hoses and sprinklers to minimize potential fire spread toward the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Sunday was relatively quiet for other fires burning in western Montana.
The Davis fire near Yaak consumed 6,032 acres and was 5 percent contained, fire officials said. No significant growth was expected overnight due to lower temperatures, smoke and cloud cover.
The Beaver Creek fire near Wisdom grew slightly to 2,067 acres Sunday and was 8 percent contained. But showers were predicted Sunday night and Monday, which could aid firefighting efforts.