Published on : Tuesday, September 5, 2017
The wind-driven fires, combined with high temperatures and dry conditions, have disrupted holiday travel and hampered firefighters across the West during a Labor Day weekend that capped a devastating summer in which an area larger than Rhode Island has burned.
Winds wreaked havoc on wildfires that were threatening two crown jewels of the National Park Service on Monday, pushing the flames toward manmade and natural icons in and around Glacier and Yosemite national parks.
.The dozens of fires burning across the West and Canada have blanketed the air with choking smoke from Oregon, where ash fell on the town of Cascade Locks, to Colorado, where health officials issued an air quality advisory alert.
A fire in Montana’s Glacier National Park emptied the park’s busiest tourist spot as gusts of wind drove the blaze toward the doorstep of a century old lodge. The 14-square-mile fire that consumed a historic Glacier backcountry chalet last week was about a mile away from Lake McDonald Lodge, a 103-year-old Swiss chalet-style hotel.
Losing Lake McDonald Lodge on top of the destruction of Sperry Chalet last week would be “unimaginably devastating,” said Mark Hufstetler, a historian who worked at the lodge for several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Rangers evacuated tourists and residents from 55 homes near the lake on Sunday as firefighters laid hoses and sprinklers around the hotel. On Monday, fire crews got bad news: The wind had shifted and gusts were driving the fire down the mountainside toward the lake’s shores.
Fire crews understood the significance of the lodge and were ready to protect it, said fire information officer Diane Sine.
Outside California’s Yosemite National Park, a wind-fueled fire on Sunday drove deeper into a grove of 2,700-year-old giant sequoia trees. Officials said the fire had gone through about half the grove, and had not killed any trees.
Giant sequoias are resilient and can withstand low intensity fires. The blaze burned low-level brush and left scorch marks on some big trees that survived, said Cheryl Chipman, a fire information officer.
There are about 100 giant sequoias in the grove, including the roughly 24-story-high Bull Buck sequoia, one of the world’s largest. Fire crews also wrapped 19th-century cabins in shiny, fire-resistant material to protect them from the flames.
The fire threatening the grove was one of several in the area — one of which closed some trails in Yosemite. A road leading to the park’s southern entrance was also closed.
Elsewhere in Northern California, a fire destroyed 72 homes and forced the evacuation of about 2,000 people from their houses. The fire has burned 14 square miles in the community of Helena about 150 miles south of the Oregon border.
In Los Angeles, a fire that destroyed four homes and threatened hillside neighbourhoods is no longer actively burning, but firefighters remained at the scene in case the wind reignited the blaze, Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said.