Hikers Survive Driving Through Vicious Wildfire in Glacier National Park

The western half of the United States, especially the Pacific Northwest, is under flames, quickly burning away to nothing. Major fires are destroying the lands of Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and western Montana. Glacier National Park, in Montana, is experiencing a rapidly spreading wildfire that very nearly cooked up an extremely lucky father-son hiking duo.

Justin Bilton, 37, and his 70-year-old father, Charlie, both from Massachusetts, were on a backpacking trip off Lake McDonald Road in Glacier National Park on Aug. 12 when the smoke and heat from a “small fire” began quickly moving in their direction. Bilton shared a disturbing video and the account of their escape from the fire, both of which appear below, with the Boston Globe on Monday.

Writing on Facebook, Justin Bilton said he and his father were backpacking in Glacier when the fire began to explode around them. They decided it was time to leave, and returned to their rental car in an effort to escape the rapidly spreading Howe Ridge Fire along Lake McDonald.
“We had just driven this road (safely) 3 hours before to get in and it was our only way out, apart from trying to stay ahead of the fire on foot. After we were stopped by the downed tree, we reversed back through all of this and were rescued by two park employees in a boat. They saved out lives,” Bilton wrote.
The video shows the two men driving through the forest, with flames erupting around them.
“Oh Jesus. God help us,” Justin can be heard saying in the video.
The video stops as they come to a downed tree blocking the road ahead.
Justin Bilton told the Globe they backed up on the road at speeds reaching 40 mph and abandoned the car back at the trailhead they had just left.
The two men walked toward the lake where they saw the boat that took them to safety.
Jess Kimball, a park worker in the boat, told NBC Montana that she and a coworker noticed the two men waving frantically from the shore of the lake.
They picked up the Biltons, but the ride back wasn’t easy, Kimball told the TV station. The small boat was weighed down by the additional passengers and their gear, and they had to battle strong winds.
“It was pretty crazy. There were burning branches in the air, flying around,” Kimball told NBC Montana. “This bald eagle got hit by a burning branch and died not too far away from us.”
Justin Bilton told the Globe: “Ten minutes later, we were on the water and we saw the whole part of the lake shore where we had been standing just go up in flames.”

I thought we were going to die,” Justin Bilton told NBC Montana. “In the boat we were so full of adrenaline and kind of shaken up. I think it was when we got off the boat at the dock it kind of really hit me. ‘Oh my god, we almost just died.’ ”

“We made it, and everyone was safe,” Kimball told the TV station.

As you can see from the video, the “small fire,” by Montana standards, was not small at all, and it was pretty terrifying to watch.

The two men luckily made it back to the shore safely of the nearby lake. Their stroke of good luck wasn’t done just yet. Two people on a boat in the distance saw Bilton and his father waving at them.  If they hadn’t come to their rescue, the outcome could very likely have been tragic. Moments later, they watched the piece of land they were just standing on burn up in flames.

What started as a fun camping and hiking trip, turned into something much different and a nearly deadly experience.

This post is a collaboration with Hugh Owen.

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Comments 1

  • Josh Johnson : Aug 23rd

    That’s definitely sobering. My first thought was “Will they make it down that road without a fallen tree blocking them?” LOL


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