In-Car Video Shows Father and Son’s Desperate Escape from Glacier National Park Wildfire

“What if the car blows up?” “Well, we’re dead. Just keep driving.”

byKyle Cheromcha|
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Glacier National Park in Montana is a stunning wilderness of alpine lakes, dense coniferous forest, and epic mountains sculpted by vast tracts of ice—and now, fire. A wildfire sparked by lightning last week multiplied in size over the weekend, prompting evacuations and taking hikers and campers by complete surprise. A new video recorded by a father and son desperately trying to escape their remote campsite as the flames closed in on their rental Subaru shows how the Howe Ridge Fire nearly claimed its first two victims.

Justin Bilton told WHDH News that he and his father were on the tail end of a western backpacking trip when they arrived at Glacier National Park last week. When they checked in at a visitor's center, park rangers informed them about the possibility of lightning storms but assured them that no fires were currently burning. The two then set up camp at the end of a dead-end dirt road near beautiful Lake McDonald. But the next day, they noticed an ominous cloud of smoke getting closer. Lightning had struck, and the Howe Ridge Fire was off and running.

"I just had a bad feeling about it, and I was like ‘Dad, I think we need to get out of here,'" Bilton told the news station.

The video picks up soon after he and his father hopped into their rental Subaru Legacy to make their escape. Things immediately look grim as Bilton nervously pilots the Subaru down the trail, walls of fire glowing in nearby thickets in every direction. He asks the question that would flash through anyone's mind in that situation: What if the car blows up? His father's response is pitch perfect, a brief light in the darkening tunnel. Well, we're dead. Just keep driving.

We've featured other wildfire escape videos before; what makes this one so powerful is the back and forth between Bilton and his father. Bilton is clearly (and rightly) terrified, but his dad maintains an even keel and tries to keep his panicking son calm and collected in this vitally important moment. Unfortunately, the trail soon hooks them directly into an active burn zone where they find their path blocked by a flaming log. Without skipping a beat, Bilton's father insists on getting out and moving the log himself. Bilton finally drops the camera and pleads with his father to stay in the car as the feed goes to black. It soon cuts out entirely.

Hearing that as potentially their last recorded moments is almost too hard. Thankfully, Bilton was able to convince his father to stay in the car; the two managed to somehow reverse all the way up the path and run back to the lakeshore, where they miraculously flagged down a passing boat and escaped to the safety of the open water. Ten minutes later, he told WHDH, the entire forest was on fire, incinerating their campsite and the hardy little Subaru.