‘They stood their ground’

Calgary Sun - - NEWS - YOLANDE COLE @yolan­decole ycole@postmedia.com

As dozens of Cal­gary fire­fight­ers re­turned from their de­ploy­ment pro­tect­ing the town of Water­ton from the Kenow wild­fire, one se­nior of­fi­cer called it the most ex­treme mis­sion he’s even been as­signed to.

The fast-mov­ing blaze in Water­ton Lakes Na­tional Park reached the town­site Mon­day night, crest­ing over the moun­tains, and rolling in quickly. The fire reached within less than 100 me­tres of fire­fight­ers sta­tioned at the Prince of Wales Ho­tel, said fire district chief Jeff Primrose.

“It was rolling across the grass, but our crews stretched out hand lines and man­aged to block it off there and keep it back from the ho­tel,” he said.

It was hours be­fore he felt he could take a breath. Amid a re­lent­less wind, crews were faced with smoke, ashes and a shower of em­bers, with some of them so close they rolled up on the porch of the ho­tel.

“It was the most in­tense fire I’ve ever been in­volved with,” said Primrose.

Deputy fire chief Allan Ball said he is “in­cred­i­bly proud” of the 52 fire­fight­ers who worked shifts pro­tect­ing the land­mark build­ing.

“They stood their ground, they pro­tected val­ues that were there and had great suc­cess,” he told re­porters Thurs­day.

Fire­fight­ers had time on their side when they ar­rived in Water­ton, tak­ing a cou­ple days to add mois­ture to ar­eas sur­round­ing the 90-year-old ho­tel, help with sprin­kler de­ploy­ment, and test their setup and water sup­ply. They put lad­der trucks into po­si­tion so when the em­bers ap­proached, they could keep them from ig­nit­ing the struc­ture.

“Some of the slopes around there burned, but there was a good perime­ter around that ho­tel that just kept the fire away,” said Ball.

There was never a point where Primrose thought the fire­fight­ers would lose the bat­tle.

“I to­tally felt in con­trol of it the whole time,” he said.

“We were that well-pre­pared, that well-trained and we had the re­sources and the peo­ple we needed on site.”

The suc­cess­ful mis­sion was a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort with other agen­cies from across south­ern Al­berta, the of­fi­cials noted.

Cal­gary fire­fight­ers were de­ployed to Water­ton Sept. 8 in re­sponse to a re­quest from Parks Canada, through the Al­berta Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, to as­sist in pro­tect­ing as­sets in the town of Water­ton.

The Cal­gary Fire Depart­ment de­ployed two aeri­als, a fire en­gine, a fire re­sponse para­medic, an ap­pa­ra­tus tech­ni­cian and a to­tal of 52 fire­fight­ers over the seven days, who worked in crews of 17.

In ad­di­tion to pro­tect­ing the Prince of Wales Ho­tel — which was built in 1926 and ’27 and is des­ig­nated a na­tional his­toric site — the crews also pro­tected the park war­den of­fice and the RCMP bar­racks.

GAvIN YOUNG/Postmedia

Deputy fire chief Allan Ball and fire district chief Jeff Primrose lauded the ef­forts of their crews in pro­tect­ing Water­ton.

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