Firefighters remain on scene protecting four other chalet complex structures

WEST GLACIER, MT. – Thursday afternoon at approximately 6:00 pm, the main building at Sperry Chalet was lost to the Sprague Fire. The two story stone structure included guest rooms and staff housing. A highly skilled group of firefighters have been working at Sperry Chalet since the fire began in August, installing an extensive hose lay, sprinkler, and pump system to protect all of the structures associated with the chalet. Portions of the chalet were also wrapped with fire resistant material.

Flames were first observed at the chalet coming from the interior of the building, as pictured here in the upper left with this blown out window. (NPS Photo)
Flames were first observed at the chalet coming from the interior of the building, as pictured here in the upper left with this blown out window. (NPS Photo)

Firefighters on scene first observed fire activity at the chalet coming from the interior of the building. They reported that the building was engulfed in flames. A park spokeswoman said an investigation would be conducted to determine the details of the blaze.

The Sprague Fire was under a Red Flag Warning for the past two days. The high winds, combined with the hot weather, low relative humidity, and extreme terrain pushed the fire to the north and east, causing the fire to more than double in acreage yesterday to 4,646 acres.

The firefighters, supported by four helicopters that flew until last light, made a valiant stand to save the structures. They were unsuccessful in saving the main building at the Sperry Chalet. They worked through the night to protect the four remaining structures. At one point, burning embers started a spot fire on the roof of the nearby kitchen building, but that was successfully extinguished.

The firefighters are safe. That team will be supported by additional firefighters today while they recuperate.

According to Glacier National Park Superintendent, Jeff Mow, the structures at Sperry Chalet are iconic historic structures that are widely loved by park employees and visitors from all over the world. The park is deeply saddened by this loss but is thankful for the safety of the firefighters. “The Fire Team has worked tirelessly to contain this fire and protect structures and infrastructure. The environmental conditions were absolutely extreme yesterday, as high as anything we’ve seen so far this summer,” said Mow.

Sperry Chalet has been operated by concessioner Belton Chalets, Inc. since 1954 and accommodated 40 – 50 overnight visitors per night. The chalet was originally constructed by the Great Northern Railway as part of the system of grand hotels and picturesque chalets in Glacier National Park soon after the park was established in 1910. Construction was completed in 1913. Since then, the chalet has provided backcountry travelers a traditional service by providing hearty meals in a rustic mountain setting. “This event is an important moment in the history of Sperry Chalet and Glacier National Park,” said Sperry Chalet Coordinator Kevin Warrington. “I have been around Sperry for my entire life and I have never expected to see anything like this. It has been a privilege to share Sperry with the great many people that love it, and it is a sad day to share the loss.” Belton Chalets, Inc. also operates the Granite Park Chalet, in another area of the park.

As more details are known about the extent of damage to the main Sperry Chalet building and any fire damage to the secondary structures the park will evaluate the possibility of rebuilding the chalet, and the next steps about future visitor services in the chalet location.

The Avalanche Lake Trail has been closed as fire managers evaluate the Avalanche Creek Drainage for possible spot fires from yesterday’s extreme fire activity, and evaluate the current and planned suppression efforts in the Mt. Brown area.

Firefighters are bracing for another critical fire day based on predicted weather.

The Sprague Fire started on August 10th and has been the number one fire suppression priority in the park this summer. In addition to structural protection measures for the Sperry Chalet complex, the fire managers have also put in structural protection measures at the Mount Brown Lookout. Due to the lookout’s location, a watering system or having firefighters remain on site has not been feasible. The lookout has been wrapped with fire resistant material due to its small size to provide some additional fire protection, in addition to helicopter resources. Over the last month, firefighters have also been conducting mitigations and creating structure protection plans for buildings in the Lake McDonald area.

The park has seen 20 fire starts this summer, and has employed ground and air resources to suppress them. The park has seen one new fire start in the last two days in the North Fork region of the park. Air and ground resources are fighting that fire today, in addition to the Sprague Fire.

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