MISSOULA — Mount Jumbo in Missoula remains closed to the public due to avalanche danger. The decision was made on Thursday after the Missoula Office of Emergency Management evaluated the conditions of the mountain’s snowpack.
“Profiles of the snow and the depths of the snow in some of those regions are what we were at in the 2014 year when we experienced that urban avalanche," explained Missoula Fire Chief Gordy Hughes.
Mount Jumbo is typically closed in the winter for elk habitat, but a few trails do remain open. However, at this time, no one is allowed to recreate anywhere on the range due to the potential for an avalanche trigger.
The hazard may become more dangerous as freezing rain and warming temperatures are in the forecast.
“What we don't have control over is the elk population up there that can be a trigger or the natural triggers themselves with changing weather conditions," Hughes said.
In addition to large amounts of snow and a threat to human life, there are secondary hazards that could result from an urban avalanche.
“A cause for concern after this last one — aside from just the volume of snow and impacting the structures, stability wise, was broken gas lines, broken water lines," Hughes noted.
Mount Jumbo was the site of a fatal avalanche in 2014 - a day that Chief Hughes remembers.
“On the day that the avalanche occurred, the winds created the cornices and the conditions that were right for that, but what we did not key in on was the accessibility and limiting folks from those areas," Hughes recalled.
In case of an urban avalanche, the city now has in place the ability to send alert messages to people living in homes affected. Meanwhile, anyone who sees people on Mount Jumbo is asked to call 911.