Glacier Rim Fire grows to 80 acres

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A helicopter drops water on the Glacier Rim Fire up the North Fork. (Chris Peterson/Hungry Horse News)

Updated: Monday, June 29, 9:52 a.m.:

Firefighters continue to battle the Glacier Rim fire, which grew late Sunday.

Officials say it now covers up to 80 acres of forest in the North Fork area. Three teams of 20 firefighters and two contract helicopters are still working on containment, according to Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry.

Currry said that crews will try to work a line around the western edge of the fire on Monday. 

Colter Pence with the U.S. Forest Service said that the Flathead River and the North Fork Road remain open to public use as long as people move along.

"The request for drivers and floaters is that they don't stop in the fire area," she said.

Helicopters, for instance, can't operate with bystanders on the road or in the river, according to Pence.

Officials believe the fire is human-caused, though it's still under investigation.

Firefighters will be watching the skies on Monday. The forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms, with possible lightning, and more high temperatures.

"The big concern is the weather," Curry said. "If the wind picks up, that's bad."

-Matt Hudson

Record-setting high temperatures and a bone-dry spring have not helped firefighters in containing the Glacier Rim Fire, which sprung up Saturday afternoon in the North Fork.

The fire continued to burn Sunday as multiple crews battled the blaze, which was man-made, representatives said.

The fire was zero-percent contained Sunday afternoon, and is burning about 30 acres near the North Fork Road, where it originated from a gravel pit 11.5 miles north of Columbia Falls. The fire is named after the Glacier Rim boat launch in the area.

Colter Pence, a fire information officer for the Flathead National Forest, said the fire was on Forest Service land, but threatened Glacier National Park.

“It’s in the Flathead National Forest on the west side of the North Fork Road,” she said. “But it is spotting across the river into Glacier. We have three 20-man crews up there, and one of those crews is working those spots.”

The fire cause seven or eight flare-ups across the river, Pence said.

A Type III management team has been sent to the blaze, along with ground crews, heavy equipment — like bulldozers — and two helicopters.

Responding agencies include the Forest Service, Flathead County Search and Rescue, the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Glacier National Park and County fire and roads departments.

The fire is burning through land scorched in the massive 2003 Robert Fire, which burned 57,570 acres, including thousands of acres in Glacier National Park.

That year, the Robert Fire combined with the Wedge Canyon and Trapper Creek Fire to burn more than 10 percent of the national park.

“We are treating this as a full suppression fire,” Pence said. “So we are going after it aggressively.”

Because the fire is burning through the Robert Fire land, firefighters are dealing with heavy slash on the ground and dry snags. Pence said the firefighters were taking extra precaution because the snags were falling down all over the scene.

Lincoln Chute, the fire service area manager for the Flathead County Office of Emergency Services, said he was up at the fire Sunday morning.

“It looked good this morning,” he said. “We threw some heavy equipment at it but it’s still going. It’s dry out there.”

With local temperatures soaring above the 100-degree mark, the danger of the fire spreading is a present one should wind conditions pick up. This far, the fire has not been wind-driven, Pence said.

Adjacent property owners have not been evacuated.

The North Fork Road was closed Saturday for several hours, but has been tentatively opened again.

“For today we hope to keep the North Fork Road open,” Pence said. “We could close it again if fire activity moves closer. Same with the river.”

Pence said emergency services were asking people to keep moving if they do use the North Fork Road or the North Fork of the Flathead River.

“We are asking you don’t stop your vehicle or pull up your raft near the fire,” she said. “We have people stopping to gawk at the fire and helicopters aren’t allowed to fly overhead if people are stopped. If they keeping stopping we’ll shut down the road again.”

Reporter Ryan Murray can be reached at 758-4436 or

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