Even as evacuation orders and warnings were lifted Tuesday for some western Montana fires, Canada's fierce Kenow fire forced the closing of the Chief Mountain border crossing and threatened the historic Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park.
The park that borders Montana's Glacier National Park, remains closed "due to a significant public safety risk from severe wildfire conditions," according to Parks Canada's Kenow fire web page.
"A Goliath of a fire, with a wind that is just so, so fast," Canadian lawmaker Pat Stier told CBC News on Tuesday.
Although the Waterton Lakes townsite appears intact, according to Parks Canada, a video widely shared on social media showed the park's visitor center gutted by the fire.
The nearby Prince of Wales Hotel, completed in 1927, is the most famous building in the Park. Built by the Great Northern Railway, it was declared a Canadian National Historic Site in 1995. According to the Parks Canada website, firefighters have been working to protect infrastructure and facilities in the Park, with structure protection that includes high-volume pumps and sprinkler systems.
Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and the minister responsible for Parks Canada, said in a statement that the park and townsite had been “successfully evacuated.”
“Fire crews remain in place in the park and Parks Canada and its partners continue to make every effort to slow the advancement of the Kenow Fire and protect the townsite,” the statement continued.
The national parks in Montana and Canada together form the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Glacier also is suffering a difficult fire season, dealing with multiple fires — as is much of western Montana.
Those fires could worsen Wednesday, with its prediction of a windy afternoon and a Red Flag Warning from 3-8 p.m.
While the winds will chase the smoke expected to pool in the valleys Wednesday morning, the likely fire growth "would lead to additional smoke impacts, particularly for folks downwind of the fires, air quality specialist Sarah Coefield wrote in her Tuesday-evening update from the Missoula City-County Health Department.
But, she added, "looking at the forecast and what's coming, it's hard to focus that much on what may be our last day of significant smoke impacts. You guys. This is an actual quote from the National Weather Service: 'If fire season isn't finished by the time this week is over, it will end next week.'"
The Rice Ridge fire's final evacuation order was lifted by the Missoula County Sheriff on Tuesday morning, allowing residents of the last six homes affected to return home. Seeley Lake proper is still under an evacuation warning.
Evacuation warnings were lifted Tuesday at the Lolo Peak fire area. The last warnings on Highway 12 between Bear Creek and Graves Creek were removed, but Elk Meadows Road and Lolo Peak Road remain closed, according to the Missoula County Sheriff's office Facebook page.
The Alice Creek fire backed down toward Montana Highway 200 Tuesday but firefighters kept it from crossing the road. “Highway 200 remains open at this time, but motorists are advised to check with the Montana Department of Transportation," according to the Tuesday evening update from Inciweb, the national wildfire information service.
The fire has burned 27,982 acres since it was discovered on July 22.
The Elder Creek fire that straddles the United States/Canada border stayed quiet Tuesday. It has closed Glacier National Park's Kishenehn Creek Trail from the Patrol Cabin to the border, and the Kintla Trail from Kishenehn Creek to Boulder Pass Trail over Starvation Ridge.
The Sprague fire in Glacier reached 14,750 acres as helicopters continued to attack hot spots by Mount Brown. Structure protection is in place at the Lake McDonald Lodge and North Lake McDonald areas while firefighters continue to cool hotspots around the Sperry Chalet complex.
Also in Glacier, the Adair Peak fire saw active burning along Logging Lake. Crown runs and torching were expected Tuesday as the fire reached 2,890 acres.