‘They stood their ground’
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.
Deputy fire chief Allan Ball and fire district chief Jeff Primrose lauded the efforts of their crews in protecting Waterton.