COLUMBIA FALLS – The Flathead County Sheriff’s Office has reopened the North Fork Road as fire crews continue to fight the Glacier Rim Fire that started around noon Saturday north of Columbia Falls.
While the road is open, law enforcement and fire officials are asking the public not to stop on the road, as that will impede firefighters from doing their jobs.
The Glacier Rim Fire grew Sunday and is now between 60 and 80 acres in size, said Flathead National Forest spokeswoman Ema Braunberger. The fire started near a gravel pit about 11 miles up North Fork Road, prompting law enforcement to close down the road on Saturday. The cause of the fire is currently unknown.
Embers from the fire crossed the North Fork of the Flathead River into Glacier National Park starting about eight spot fires, but Braunberger said 50 firefighters and two helicopters are working in the area with the mission to keep the fire on the west side of the river. On both sides of the river, firefighters are working in rough terrain and areas of heavy fuels, but Braunberger said by Sunday afternoon they had the fire about a quarter of the way contained. Local heavy equipment was brought in to help dig fire lines, she said.
A Type III incident management team is being put in place to continue to fight the fire, and three additional 20-person crews are being brought in. The firefighters are currently not working on the hottest spot of the fire because of the danger of falling snags from the trees overhead.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality said the smoke is impacting areas of the northern Flathead Valley. The air quality monitor in Columbia Falls reported the air as unhealthy for sensitive groups, meaning children and the elderly, as well as those with respiratory illnesses or heart disease should limit their exposure. Air quality readings degraded from good to moderate in other areas around the fire.