A wildfire at Glacier National Park, the most active fire in the United States as of Wednesday, has burned more than 4,000 acres of the Montana park -- fueled by dry vegetation, gusty winds and thick timber, officials said. Photo courtesy of Glacier National Park/U.S. National Park Service/Twitter
ST. MARY, Mont., July 22 (UPI) -- Now the most active wildfire in the United States, a turbulent blaze inside Glacier National Park has doubled in size and forced the evacuations of nearby campgrounds, a hotel and residents of a summer resort town, fire officials said late Wednesday.
The Reynolds Creek Wildland fire, which is believed to have started Tuesday, has consumed more than 4,000 acres as crews grapple to get a handle on the fast-moving flames. Additionally, it has destroyed a historic National Park Service patrol station in Baring Falls and at least one vehicle.
The wildfire doubled in size Wednesday, officials said, from 2,000 acres reported Tuesday. Thick timber and strong gusts only made the blaze more difficult for fire crews to get ahead of, as flames quickly traversed a mountainside in the historic park -- which is located in northern Montana and expands into Canada.
Thousands of vacationers have been displaced by the wildfire, as July is the park's busiest month.
"We're in limbo," tourist LaRee Prather, of Augusta, Ga., told the Great Falls Tribune. Vacationing with her husband, she said their plans are now up in the air. They had planned to stay in the resort town of St. Mary for two days, but the fire has forced people there to move to safer ground.
The park-operated Rising Sun Motor Inn & Cabins, which has 72 units, and the nearby Rising Sun campground were also evacuated.
The National Interagency Fire Center said Wednesday the Reynolds Creek fire is the most active fire in the United States.
"It's late July and it's hot and it's dry, so when you have an ignition source, it'll spread," Andy Huntsberger, the leader of the Interagency Incident Command Team, told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.
About 100 firefighters are battling the flames, but extremely dry vegetation is acting as fuel for the blaze -- and even rains in the area over the past week didn't insulate the fire-prone areas enough.
Firefighters are using water-dropping helicopters to douse the flames, officials said, but the extreme weather conditions were working against those efforts.
Perhaps the biggest interruption caused by the fire was the closure of the popular Going-To-The-Sun Road -- a steep and narrow road cut into the side of a mountain that takes visitors through the park. The route was closed Tuesday and part of it remained closed Wednesday, officials said.
"It's smoky up here and nobody really knows how big the fire is," vacationer Chris Rossmiller, said, noting that he was at the Rising Sun Motor Inn & Cabins while firefighters hosed down buildings.
Park rangers continued their search for backcountry hikers, and a temporary flight restriction was also put into place over the area. Officials said additional wildfires also started and spread quickly -- some ignited by lightning strikes, and others by people.
A different wildfire near the capital of Helena had consumed more than 2,500 acres by Wednesday evening, the U.S. Forest Service said.