A cold front is heading toward the Northern Rocky Mountains this weekend, giving firefighters hope for a break from the hot, dry and windy conditions that have hampered their efforts to contain a wildfire burning through Montana's Glacier National Park.
The region is experiencing the severe drought that has stoked other fires across the western U.S., with blazes threatening homes and watersheds in California and Washington state.
The National Weather Service said the front was expected to sweep into the Northern Rockies on Sunday, bringing cooler temperatures, rain and possibly snow at high elevations in Glacier National Park.
That would provide a break for the 300 firefighters trying to stop the blaze from spreading northeast down the Glacier's Going-to-the-Sun Road toward the populated areas at the park's eastern boundary.
"Typically, cooler temperatures and higher humidity help reduce fire spread, but we can't count on that," fire information officer Jennifer Costich said Friday. "We've got to wait and see what it does."
The blaze was active after three straight days of red-flag weather conditions in the parched fire zone. It made short runs toward the mountains, away from the populated areas, while a spot fire broke out in another place where crews were trying to anchor a fire line, Costich said.
The fire has now spread beyond the Rising Sun Motor Inn and campground, which were previously evacuated. No damage had been reported to either as of Friday, but the fire was actively burning in the area, Costich said.
As the Reynolds Creek fire in Glacier National Park continued to push north and east, firefighters began construction of a fire line near Two Dog Flats with a goal of completing it around the head of the blaze.
The 4,000-acre fire, which started Tuesday afternoon between Jackson Glacier Overlook and the west end of St. Mary Lake and has been fanned by strong winds from the west, continues to march in the direction of Lower St. Mary Lake, located just outside the park’s boundary north of St. Mary.
The Glacier County Sheriff’s Office and Blackfeet Tribal Law Enforcement have evacuated the west side of Lower St. Mary Lake, authorities say.
The cause of the wildfire, which has shut down 21 miles of Glacier’s popular 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road, is still unknown.
Glacier National Park officials shepherded visitors who had planned to visit the popular sights on the closed portions of the park's main Going-to-the-Sun Road to other areas of the park. They encouraged people with upcoming trips not to cancel their plans.
"The rest of the park is spectacular, it's beautiful and there is no impact whatsoever," park spokeswoman Denise Germann said.
The fire is burning in an estimated 6 square miles — though fire officials said that is a rough estimate — in a park that is more than 1,718 square miles.
Lodging is a problem for those who decide to travel to other places in the park. The parks lodges and cabins have been booked for months, as well as reserved spots in campgrounds.
Each campground has sites that are first-come, first-serve, and there are privately owned campgrounds and hotels just outside the park, Germann said.
Glacier National Park is the 10th-most-visited park in the National Park Service system, despite its remote location.
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