Mother Nature an ally in fire fight
Cool, wet weather kept wildfires from growing
“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.
The Waterton Lakes National Park entrance along Highway 5, east of Mountain View, features significant fire damage from the Kenow wildfire. @TMartinHerald