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New Wildfire In Glacier National Park Sends Tourists Scrambling, East Side Still Open

The Howe Ridge fire prompted evacuations at Glacier National Park Sunday evening.
The Howe Ridge fire prompted evacuations at Glacier National Park Sunday evening.

Scorching temperatures are hitting our region’s biggest tourist attractions. On Friday, temperatures at Glacier National Park hit triple digits for the first time in recorded history.

A couple days later, the Howe Ridge fire blew up.

Lodgers and campers awoke late Sunday night to officials telling them to get out as soon as possible.

The fire  closed down some of the park’s most popular campgrounds, the historic McDonald Lodge, and a big stretch of the iconic Going-To-The-Sun road.

“If these major attractions are closed, that certainly hampers the desirability of people coming to Montana,” Jeremy Sage, a tourism professor at the University of Montana, said.

Last year, Montana’s record-breaking wildfire season cost the tourism industry there millions of dollars.

Glacier National Park is one of the region’s biggest vacation draws.

Another is Yellowstone. That park is currently one step away from its highest wildfire risk.

While they are a natural and necessary part of the environment, wildfires in the Mountain West have become bigger and more dangerous due to climate change, increased population and poor forest management.

Sage stresses that many parts of Glacier National Park are still open to the public, including the east side of the park. A major fire there last year destroyed a historic backcountry cabin and may have  cut visitation by more than 15 percent, or about 57,000 visitors.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio. To see more, visit Yellowstone Public Radio.

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