A Look at Fires Threatening National Parks and Key Recreational Areas

Glacier, Mt. Rainier, Yosemite, and the Columbia River Gorge are all burning.


Across the western United States, fires are raging in national parks, wilderness areas, and urban centers alike. Where the fires don’t reach, smoke and ash hang heavy. Montana, California, and Washington have all declared states of emergency, and Montana declared a statewide fire disaster last week due to the unprecedented fire season.

Glacier National Park took a major blow last week when the historic Sperry Chalet burned in the 13,000-acre Sprague Fire. The hut, built in 1913 by the Great Northern Railway, was a historical landmark and beloved destination for hikers wishing to take in the expansive views from its perch at 6500 feet. Another historic Glacier building, the Lake McDonald Lodge, closed a month early due to smoke. Firefighters are taking every precaution to protect the historic building from the flames, which on Monday were just a mile from the lodge. Across the state, over half a million acres of public and private land are burning. With the state in a drought and high winds in the forecast, there’s no end in sight. In areas blanketed in smoke so thick residents are urged to stay inside, the only guaranteed relief will come with winter snow—though state officials are optimistic that firefighters will be able to contain and subdue the fires before then. According to the Incident Information System, Montana is battling more than 40 active wildfires.

Yesterday in Washington State the unpredictable Norse Peak Fire in Washington’s central Cascades led the National Park Service to close the northeastern portion of Mt. Rainier National Park, roughly a third of the park’s nearly 400 square miles. State route 410 from state route 123 to mile post 89 remains closed, as does the 1900 road and Crystal Mountain Boulevard. The PCT is closed from Chinook to Snoqualmie Pass.  The fire had yet to cross into Mt. Rainier National Park at the time of the closure. Earlier this week, it was burning within the bounds of Crystal Mountain ski area this week, one of the Seattle area’s three major ski areas and a popular big mountain ski and snowboard competition venue. Crystal Mountain sits just outside of Rainier, and the ski area and surrounding forests and mountains are full of trails and beloved backcountry zones. No buildings or lifts have been destroyed yet.

In Oregon, the Eagle Creek fire, started by fireworks, necessitated the rescue of over 150 day-hikers on a popular trail outside Portland. The fire is ripping indiscriminately through some of Oregon’s most well-loved and trafficked outdoor spaces, and locals lament that the picturesque Columbia River Gorge—including Multnomah Falls and dozens of popular trails—will never be the same. On Monday night, the fire leapt across the Columbia River into Washington, necessitating evacuations and partial road closures in Washington’s Skamania County. While the fire’s rate of growth has slowed, the 20,000-acre blaze is still at zero percent containment. Oregon has had an uncommonly dry summer, and wildfires have proliferated across the western portion of the state with particular ferocity this year.

Major cities including Seattle and Portland are choked with smoke and blanketed in ash. From northwestern Montana to the coast, residents are encouraged to stay indoors and keep exertion to a minimum. In Washington, the widespread impact of the fires is reminiscent of the Mt. St. Helens eruption—locals can’t recall another time when ash fell on residences along the Puget Sound.

In Southern California, the La Tuna fire—the largest to ever hit Los Angeles—has burned 7,000 acres in the Verdugo Mountains and claimed five homes. Several fires are burning outside Yosemite, aided by high winds. One threatens a grove of 2,700-year old giant sequoias, the Nelder grove, and two historic 19th century cabins within it. Crews are working to protect the cabins—which they’ve wrapped in fire-resistant material—and the trees, which, despite fire charring the forest floor, remain intact. The fires in the area have necessitated the closure of some Yosemite rails and roads. Another fire in Northern California claimed 72 homes in a rural area just south of the Oregon border.

While the East coast is free of major blazes, smoke from the west has been taken up in the jet stream and carried eastward.

Below, we’ve listed the most threatening active wildfires across the West.

Washington:

  • The Jolly Mountain fire, 11 miles northwest of Cle Elum, is burning on 24,000 acres of Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and land managed by the Washington Department of National Resources and The Nature Conservancy. It continues to inch closer to residential areas.
  • The Diamond Creek Fire straddles the border of Washington and Canada in the Pasayten Wilderness and Eightmile drainage approximately 12 air miles north of Mazama, Washington. The human-caused blaze is 105,000 acres and 65 percent contained.

Idaho:

  • At nearly 80,000 acres, the Highline fire and Goat Fire  on the Payette National Forest, Krassel Ranger District, within the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, are burning in the right place at the right time. Primarily burning within previous fire scars, crews are protecting certain points but largely monitoring the large fires.
  • The Hanover fire, nearly 25,000 acres, is burning along the Salmon River. The popular waterway for rafting and fishing is still open to recreation.
  • The Hidden fire on Hidden Ridge, 7 miles northeast of the Elk Summit Guard Station and in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, is being managed as a long-term incident for resource benefit. Currently estimated at 10,689 acres, the fire has necessitated trail closures in the area.
  • The 24,000-acre Bearskin Fire continues to burn in the northern end of Bear Valley in the Lowman Ranger District. It doubled in size in the last week.
  • The 17,000-acre Ibex fire has burdened the town of Challis with heavy smoke and, until last week, had the Salmon-Challis National Forest at extreme fire danger, with road and trail closures.

Montana:

  • The 120,000-acre Rice Ridge Fire in the Lolo National Forest is just 2% contained. Its located north and east of Seeley Lake, whose waters were closed to recreation for use by emergency aircraft but recently re-opened.
  • Elsewhere in the Lolo National Forest’s area of jurisdiction, the 26,000-acre Sunrise Fire has been 90 percent contained. The 48,000-acre Lolo Peak fire, just 10 miles southwest of Lolo, Montana, is only 31 percent contained, and 1165 structures are under an evacuation warning.
  • The 16,000-acre Park Fire two miles north of Lincoln has been burning since mid-July, and likely won’t be contained until late October. It is one of three blazes in the Lewis and Clark National Forest area, in addition to the 7,000-acre Crucifixion Creek fire and the growing 22,000-acre Alice Creek Fire, which has forced the evacuation of all residents of Elk Meadows, northeast of Lincoln, MT and residents along threatened sections of Highway 200.
  • The Highway 200 complex fire has led to the evacuation of 100 residences near Plains and Thompson. 310 more are under evacuation warnings.
  • The 56,000-acre Meyers Fire led to the closure of large sections of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
  • The 17,000-acre Caribou fire in the Kootenai National Forest has claimed 10 homes and 30 outbuildings. Firefighters are focusing their efforts in the West Kootenai area and aiming for 50 percent suppression, 50 percent containment.

Nevada:

  • A 16,000-acre brush and grass fire dubbed the Tungsten Fire is burning in the Clan Alpine Mountains. It’s just a mile from a power plant, which crews are working to protect from the flames.
  • The 94,000-acre Tohakum 2 fire is 95 percent contained. The massive and rapidly growing fire 40 miles north of Nixon, Nevada, has been burning just over week, but growth has slowed in recent days thanks to firefighters and wet weather.

Oregon:

  • Southwestern Oregon’s Chetco Bar Fire began in mid July with a lightning strike and now stretches over 130,000 acres. Burning in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, the fire is at just 10 percent containment, and has been fed by strong, hot, dry winds in the last week.
  • The High Cascades Complex fire consists of 20 Oregon wildfires, primarily in Rogue River-Siskiyou and Crater Lake National Park, begun in mid-August by a lightning strike. 13 of the complex’s fires are contained.
  • Also in southwestern Oregon, the 11,000 acre High Prairie fire has burned logging equipment as it spread across BLM land and private industrial forest lands.
  • The Milli fire, nine miles west of Sisters, Oregon in the Three Sisters Wilderness, has forced evacuations. 44 percent of the 22,000-acre fire is contained.

California:

  • The Miller complex fire is 14,000 acres and 44 percent contained. It began in mid-August and contains 25 fires, 6 of which are still growing. It straddles the border between California and Oregon.
  • The Eclipse complex fire in northwestern California is currently 76,000 acres and 25 percent contained. Smoke from the Eclipse complex has dramatically degraded air quality in communities along the Klamath river.
  • Further south, the Orleans complex fire is 51 percent contained and 14,000 acres in size.
  • In Sisikiyou county, the seven-fire Salmon-August complex covers 21,000 acres. Crews are focusing on the Wallow Fire, which makes up 19,000 of those acres and is still active at just 19 percent containment.

Photo of the Eagle Creek Fire by U.S. Forest Service, Public Domain 

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