Inside the battle to save historic Glacier Park landmarks from w - KULR8.com | News, Weather & Sports in Billings, Montana

Inside the battle to save historic Glacier Park landmarks from wildfire

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Photo: Glacier National Park Photo: Glacier National Park
WEST GLACIER -

Fire managers say it's a miracle the historic Lake McDonald Lodge is still standing.

The nearby Howe Ridge fire sent hot embers flying a half-mile across Lake McDonald when it started on Aug. 11 and rapidly grew. But vigilant crews are working to keep the historic lodge safe.

Flying embers are how the Sperry Chalet ignited in the summer of 2017. Meanwhile, this year's Howe Ridge Fire has destroyed 13 homes - some historic - and 14 outbuildings on the west side of Lake McDonald.

When it exploded in early August, it was driven not by winds, but by a large column of smoke that collapsed and burned everything underneath. And it continues to grow.

Fire protection specialist Hunter Bell says the team is working with local structural firefighters to protect the surviving homes, as well as the historic lodge and adjacent cabins.

Bell showed how firefighters use a ladder truck to get onto the roof and spray water on the cedars, in a process called an ember wash. Sprinklers pumping water from the creek below line the McDonald Creek bridge, another piece of defensive infrastructure.

It's the only way for firefighters and homeowners to get to the wets side of the lake.

Even more hoses line the popular trail of cedars.

"They're a shallow-rooted tree," Bell says. "They're easy to fall out of the middle of them. And they fall over very easily. That poses a lot of threat to firefighters and the public."

Adding to the danger, Going to the Sun Road is the only escape route for firefighters. It adds to the reasons why the west side of the famed highway has been closed for nearly a month during the height of summer tourism season.

Trail of Cedars is closed to the public, as is the Lake McDonald Lodge. The west side of Going to the Sun Road opens on Friday to tour and shuttle buses. No private vehicles will be allowed.

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