Mother Na­ture an ally in fire fight

Cool, wet weather kept wild­fires from grow­ing

Lethbridge Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Ti­jana Martin and Nick Kuhl nkuhl@leth­bridge­

“We call Mother Na­ture ‘air tanker num­ber one.’”

Words from Les­lie Lozin­ski, a wild­fire in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for Al­berta Agri­cul­ture and Forestry, dis­cussing the cooler tem­per­a­tures and pre­cip­i­ta­tion now be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced in the prov­ince’s south­west.

“She’s been do­ing a great job to­day tem­per­ing pre­cip­i­ta­tion to ar­eas of the fire,” Lozin­ski said Thurs­day af­ter­noon out­side the Twin Butte Gen­eral Store, about 20 kilo­me­tres from the gates to Water­ton Lakes Na­tional Park. “We’d just like to re­mind peo­ple it’s go­ing to take a lot of rain to make a dif­fer­ence. We need a lot, so be pa­tient.”

The fire re­ceived about six mil­lime­tres of rain overnight Wed­nes­day into Thurs­day, Parks Canada of­fi­cials said. De­spite the weather con­di­tions turn­ing in their favour, how­ever, and with the con­tin­ued fore­cast ex­pected to re­duce the like­li­hood of growth or new fire de­vel­op­ment, “in­tense fire be­hav­iour” is still pos­si­ble in these dry con­di­tions.

The Kenow fire did not demon­strate any growth overnight Wed­nes­day into Thurs­day, but is still clas­si­fied as out of con­trol and was es­ti­mated Thurs­day at ap­prox­i­mately 36,000 hectares.

“In the com­ing weeks, Parks Canada will in­form the pub­lic once it has de­ter­mined whether the en­try of com­mu­nity and busi­ness own­ers within the park is safe,” said Natalie Fay, Parks Canada’s Emer­gency Man­age­ment In­for­ma­tion Of­fi­cer for the Kenow wild­fire.

“The high in­ten­sity of the fire has se­verely im­pacted the land­scape within the park. As a re­sult, many ar­eas will re­main un­safe. The de­tailed as­sess­ment of in­fra­struc­ture and fa­cil­i­ties is un­der­way and will be avail­able as soon as it is com­pleted. We want to make sure that we get this done right and that it’s safe be­fore we al­low peo­ple to go back to the town­site.”

The off­shoot Cas­tle Branch fire held at about 500 hectares Thurs­day and was still about 23 km from Cas­tle Moun­tain Re­sort.

“We didn’t see ag­gres­sive growth (Wed­nes­day) be­cause of the weather,” said Lozin­ski.

Manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­ders re­main in ef­fect for Water­ton Lakes Na­tional Park and Cas­tle Moun­tain Re­sort, but the manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­ders for Card­ston County and for parts of Blood Re­serve were lifted Thurs­day, and the manda­tory evac­u­a­tion area in the MD of Pincher Creek has been re­duced in size.

Tara Cry­der­man, ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant for the Mu­nic­i­pal Dis­trict of Pincher Creek, said the area from High­way 505 south to Town­ship Road 3-2 (Oil Basin Road) is now re­opened.

“Res­i­dents can pick up a reen­try in­for­ma­tion pack­age at the bar­ri­cade lo­cated at High­way 505 and High­way 6, as well as the ad­min­stra­tion of­fice, the re­cep­tion cen­tre, and it will be on our web­site,” she said.

“They can re­turn to their homes and re­turn to their farms,” said RCMP Cpl. Cur­tis Peters said Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

“It’s open to the pub­lic to go back down those roads. But they should be aware that it’s still un­der an evac­u­a­tion alert, and if weather con­di­tions change and the fire be­hav­iour changes, they may be again put un­der an evac­u­a­tion or­der. The fire threat re­mains very real here, as well as in Cas­tle.”

Peters and Cry­der­man both said res­i­dents should be aware they may not have util­i­ties on their prop­er­ties, but of­fi­cials are work­ing with power and gas com­pa­nies to get things go­ing as soon as pos­si­ble.

“A lot of in­fra­struc­ture was dam­aged by the fire, and there’s a good chance peo­ple may not have all the ser­vices for awhile still,” Peters said. “They need to be pre­pared. I think ev­ery­body is ea­ger to get back, if not to stay, at least to get back and check on homes, check on live­stock, feed the cat­tle, do the things that need to be done on a farm. Peo­ple in this area — they’re re­silient. It’s not go­ing to be quite back to nor­mal, but I’m sure they’ll be happy to be home.”

“Our priorities are to en­sure the safety of crews work­ing in the area, pro­tect in­fra­struc­ture and val­ues, and pre­vent the spread of the ac­tive fire with sup­pres­sion tac­tics and con­tain­ment lines,” Fay said. “He­li­copters and other air­craft con­tinue to con­duct aerial sup­pres­sion tac­tics in the area.”

Al­berta Health Ser­vices said Thurs­day, as well, that due to an im­prove­ment in the weather and level of smoke in the air, vis­i­tor re­stric­tions have been lifted at Card­ston and Pincher Creek Health Cen­tres.

“We sin­cerely thank those peo­ple who post­poned vis­it­ing their loved ones to help us pro­tect air qual­ity,” of­fi­cials said.

Her­ald photo by Ti­jana Martin

The Water­ton Lakes Na­tional Park en­trance along High­way 5, east of Moun­tain View, fea­tures sig­nif­i­cant fire dam­age from the Kenow wild­fire. @TMart­inHer­ald

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