California fires a lesson for West Glacier?

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A description of the devastating wildfire in California raises similar concerns about public safety in West Glacier as a result of Glacier Park Inc.’s huge RV development with one-entrance-one exit on River Bend Drive. At a meeting of the West Glacier Community Preservation Association last summer these concerns were expressed to GPI’s CEO, Ron Cadrette. Cadrette assured the group that GPI had “expert” security people who were well prepared to handle such situations and would direct traffic in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Let me just recount descriptions of the disaster in Paradise, California, where the town was destroyed and lives lost:

“There was only one way out of Paradise for residents fleeing the fire, a four-lane road known as Skyway which quickly became paralyzed by traffic, a situation similar to what residents of Malibu encountered along the Pacific Coast Highway, another choke point . . . It’s one way in and one way out, so there was no way to avoid the fire when trying to leave. There were cars behind, cars in front and fire on both sides ... Frantic residents, encircled by choking dense smoke and swirling embers, ran out of gas and ditched their cars. Fire crews used giant earthmovers to plow abandoned vehicles off the road as if they were snowdrifts after a blizzard.”

Paradise had an emergency evacuation plan that had been rehearsed more than a year before this fire, but as panic set in “any idea of an orderly evacuation fell apart.”

This should raise concerns in West Glacier and Flathead County about what could happen here in the likely event of future wildfires. The lives of residents and visitors to Glacier National Park may depend on it.

James W. Clarke

West Glacier

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