Weather be­gins to tame Waterton wild­fire

Fire con­tin­ues to pose risks

Lethbridge Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Nick Kuhl LETH­BRIDGE HERALD

The Waterton town­site is no longer un­der a di­rect threat from the Kenow wild­fire, of­fi­cials said Wed­nes­day, but the fire is still ac­tive in the area and con­tin­ues to pose risks.

Cooler tem­per­a­tures, higher rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity and north­east winds be­gan form­ing dur­ing the day Wed­nes­day, with pre­cip­i­ta­tion be­gin­ning later in the evening and con­tin­u­ing overnight.

Fire be­hav­iour po­ten­tial is re­duced, said Natalie Fay, Parks Canada’s Emer­gency Man­age­ment In­for­ma­tion Of­fi­cer for the Kenow wild­fire, but “in­tense fire be­hav­iour” is still pos­si­ble in th­ese dry con­di­tions as the Al­berta fire was ap­prox­i­mately 35,000 hectares as of Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

The town­site and Waterton Lakes Na­tional Park re­main closed. Up­dates on the tim­ing for the re-open­ing, as well as as­sess­ments and up­dates to home and busi­ness own­ers will hap­pen as soon as pos­si­ble, Fay said. She also con­firmed that Alpine Sta­bles just out­side to town­site was lost to the fire.

“Cur­rent ob­jec­tives include en­sur­ing safety, min­i­miz­ing risk to struc­tures af­fected by fire, as­sess­ing ac­tions and repo­si­tion­ing re­sources in pri­or­ity ar­eas, con­tin­u­ing di­rect sup­pres­sion ac­tion on the fire perime­ter, and com­plet­ing ini­tial dam­age as­sess­ments,” she said.

“Com­pleted ob­jec­tives include suc­cess­fully re­mov­ing veg­e­ta­tion in a burnout to fur­ther en­sure fire pro­tec­tion mea­sures within the Waterton town­site.”

“The weather is in our favour now,” said Rick Moore, a Wild­fire Op­er­a­tions Of­fi­cer with Al­berta Agri­cul­ture and Forestry, dur­ing a tele­phone town hall Wed­nes­day night. “This weather event is go­ing to help us out im­mensely.”

One ques­tion from the pub­lic dur­ing that town hall was “what will be done for com­pen­sa­tion for those who have lost prop­erty or live­stock?”

Shan­non Phillips, Al­berta’s Min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­ment and Parks, in­structed peo­ple to con­tact in­sur­ance com­pa­nies to be­gin with.

Else­where, a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion for Zone 1 on the Blood Re­serve was lifted late Wed­nes­day. A State of Lo­cal Emer­gency re­mains in place for the nearby Mu­nic­i­pal District of Pincher Creek, al­though a re-en­try plan was be­ing for­mu­lated on Wed­nes­day.

Card­ston County has de­clared a State of Lo­cal Emer­gency as the Waterton fire has en­tered the county, re­sult­ing in ex­treme smoke con­di­tions.

Struc­tural loss in the MD of Pincher Creek in­cludes five res­i­dences, five out­build­ings, two large sheds, one bridge on pri­vate prop­erty, fence lines, hay and some power lines. RCMP Cpl. Cur­tis Peters said own­ers have been no­ti­fied, while 283 res­i­dents have reg­is­tered with the re­cep­tion cen­tre.

Lo­cal res­i­dents in the Twin Butte area were be­ing per­mit­ted past the road­blocks set up by RCMP for ap­prox­i­mately two hours Wed­nes­day to check on their homes and live­stock.

A 500-hectare off-shoot fire, called the Cas­tle Branch wild­fire by Parks Canada, also con­tin­ued to burn on the west side of Sage Moun­tain. As of Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, that fire was about 23 kilo­me­tres from Cas­tle Moun­tain and 30 km from Beaver Mines.

Of­fi­cials said air­craft were work­ing on that fire as the clouds and winds al­low. Heavy equip­ment was also work­ing on es­tab­lish­ing con­tain­ment lines in the area. Cas­tle Moun­tain Re­sort re­mains un­der manda­tory evac­u­a­tion and there is no ac­cess per­mit­ted.

“We are hold­ing that fire in place,” Moore said.

“The re­sort is not in im­me­di­ate dan­ger at this time,” Cas­tle Moun­tain Re­sort of­fi­cials wrote on their web­site Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

The MD of Pincher Creek closed the Cas­tle gates at roughly 8 a.m. Tues­day, turn­ing away peo­ple try­ing to get to the re­sort, in­clud­ing re­sort em­ploy­ees and man­age­ment.

“We had sev­eral peo­ple al­ready on site to start their work day, plus our com­mu­nity res­i­dents who live here, when the evac­u­a­tion no­tice was put out. We as­sisted in get­ting peo­ple evac­u­ated and our of­fice staff were able to se­cure servers and valu­ables so they could be trans­ferred off site, while main­te­nance crews se­cured prop­erty around the re­sort,” the web­site state­ment reads.

“The Cas­tle Moun­tain Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion has also been do­ing a fan­tas­tic job at com­mu­ni­cat­ing and work­ing with res­i­dents to en­sure their prop­erty is safe and se­cure. Our staff that have been dis­placed are all stay­ing with friends and co­work­ers at this time.

“We thank ev­ery­one for think­ing of us, work­ing to­gether and help­ing out our friends and neigh­bours in the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties. Our hearts go out to our friends in Waterton Lakes Na­tional Park, the MD of Pincher Creek, the Blood Re­serve, and Card­ston County who have been af­fected by this beast of a wild­fire. While we are not out of the woods yet, it has not bro­ken our strong south­west­ern Al­ber­tan re­solve. Think rain and snow!”

Fol­low @NKuh­lHer­ald on Twit­ter

Herald photo by Ti­jana Martin

A rancher leads cat­tle west of Twin Butte on Tues­day. On Wed­nes­day, it was an­nounced that lo­cal ranch­ers in the Twin Butte area would be given ap­prox­i­mately two hours to re-en­ter the evac­u­a­tion sites in or­der to feed their live­stock. @TMart­inHer­ald

Herald photo by Ian Martens

The sun rises over a smoky sky as a crew from Pincher Creek Emer­gency Ser­vices waits on standby at the com­mu­nity of Twin Butte fol­low­ing the fire burn­ing through Waterton and into Card­ston County and the MD of Pincher Creek this week. @IMarten­sHer­ald

Photo cour­tesy Parks Canada

Smoke lingers where fire rav­aged a moun­tain­side in Waterton Lakes Na­tional Park.

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