Safety First… for more fun later!

This was the first evidence of the fire in the park. I used my iPhone from the deck of our cabin.

This was the first evidence of the fire in the park. I used my iPhone from the deck of our cabin.


It doesn’t happen often, fortunately, but tours can be interrupted by unexpected circumstances. Last week out group had barely begun a week-long photo workshop in Glacier National Park, in northwestern Montana, when a forest fire broke out.

St. Mary's Falls two days before the fire, when they were engulfed by nightfall on Tuesday.

St. Mary’s Falls


After the group arrival on Sunday we had a wonderful, jam-packed day of photography on Monday that included sunrise at St. Mary’s Lake, followed by a short hike to St. Mary’s Falls while the skies remained somewhat overcast. After a siesta and classroom workshop, Monday evening was spent in the Two Medicine area for afternoon and sunset images around Running Eagle Falls and Two Medicine Lake.

Tuesday morning we drove further into the park with a stop short of Logan Pass to capture an awesome vista for sunrise before searching for Mountain Goats along the Highline Trail. Surprisingly, the goats were absent that morning, probably due to the abnormally hot, dry temperatures the park was experiencing.

After lunch in Apgar, on the western side of the park, we returned to our cabin, outside the eastern entrance of the Glacier National Park in St. Mary’s. We enjoyed another brief siesta and classroom workshop and had planned to enter the park again at 4pm. However, at 3:30pm a fire had been reported in the Reynold’s Creek area of the park, a short distance west of St. Mary’s Falls, where we had been on Monday.

The fire was expanding rapidly.

The fire was expanding rapidly.


The smoke was already towering by the time we had planned to depart and the park was being evacuated from Logan Pass east to Rising Sun, along the lake. We headed south, back to Two Medicine, retuning to our cabin after dark.

Wednesday morning, the fire was growing, but seemed to be a long distance away, so we headed north to the Many Glacier area looking for more sunrise opportunities plus moose and waterfalls. Though the moose dod not cooperate on this day, we had fun with waterfalls before heading back to our cabin after lunch.

Helicopter Fire Fighter

Helicopter Fire Fighter


On the return trip we learned that the the St. Mary’s Visitor Center, as well as the campground down the road from our cabin, had been evacuated! Upon arrival at our lodging we packed up and waited for our call to evacuate. The smoke was heavy and ash was falling. We talked with the owners of our rental cabin and were told that we would ‘probably’ not be evacuated. However, the smoke and ash were quite thick so a decision had to be made for the safety and well-being of our group.

As I had no reliable internet connection at the time, I called Adrian back in Pennsylvania to do some research on available lodging. After dinner we packed up and departed to a safer distance to the last remaining rooms in Browning, MT. About 25 miles away.

From Browning we continued our workshop, quite successfully considering a large portion of the park was now closed. Fortunately, the Many Glacier area remained fire-free and offered excellent sunrises and, on Thursday and Friday, some great moose photography!

All-in-all a fun week, regardless of the added challenges. We never would have expected a fire, but being able to act quickly for the safety of our group, keeping in mind the opportunities still available allowed us to continue the fun!

—Kevin Loughlin



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