Waterton townsite imminent threat alleviating
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 into Thursday.
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?”
Minister of Environment and Parks Shannon Phillips 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 reentry plan was being formulated on Wednesday.
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 homes and livestock.
A 500-hectare off-shoot fire, dubbed 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 from Beaver Mines.
Officials said aircraft were working on that fire as 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 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,” the website statement reads. “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.
WATERTON Members of a southern Alberta ranching family say they will rebuild after a wildfire swept through their property just outside Waterton Lakes National Park.
“We’ll get everything back up and running as soon as we possibly can and we’ll continue to ranch in that area for many more generations,” said Melody Garner-Skiba, who has considered the Rocking Heart Ranch home since she was nine years old.
Her father, former Saskatchewan politician Jim Garner, and his wife Angel bought the horse ranch more than three decades ago.
The red log house, feed yard, barn and arena were destroyed. The only thing left standing is a shop housing farm equipment and supplies that happened to be surrounded by gravel.
Garner-Skiba said the family has decided that everything will be rebuilt.
“This has typically always been our motto: when you knock a Garner down, we just come back up swinging a little harder.”
A grass fire ignited just outside the north part of the park on Monday night, which authorities have said may have been sparked by a blowing ember from the Kenow wildfire burning to the southwest.
Garner-Skiba said just minutes after her father told her the fire was 20 kilometres away and everything was fine, he called back to say he was ordered to leave immediately.
“What happened? How did this come on so quickly?,” Garner-Skiba recalled wondering.
Her niece, Sierra Garner, said she was awoken Monday night with news her grandpa and nana were under an evacuation order.
The two women and some other family members were able to travel from Lethbridge to check on the ranch Tuesday morning.
“There was not a lot left,” Garner, 20, said Wednesday.
Jim and Angel’s children and grandchildren regularly help out on the ranch in their spare time.
Treasured family keepsakes inside the house were destroyed.
“We have this old cowboy hat that was my great-great grandpa’s. That’s burned down,” said Garner.
Garner-Skiba added that walls of the house were lined with family photos dating back more than a century and with Jim’s hunting trophies.
The pair said the family is grateful everyone got out safely and none of the 100 or so horses on the ranch was hurt.
“We went back in on Tuesday expecting to see actually corpses of horses and we’d actually taken our guns because we thought we would have to put some animals down because they were caught in the fire,” Garner-Skiba said.
Her niece said material items can be replaced.
“We’ll get a new house, we’ll get a new barn, arena,” she said. “We’ll rebuild everything. But if we would have lost any lives, that would have been a different story, and thank gosh we didn’t.”
Garner said her grandparents are holding up well.
“I’ve got very strong grandparents,” she said. “They’re doing OK. Without our family here, we wouldn’t be as calm and collected as we are because we all support each other.”
The Alberta government says around 500 people are under evacuation order in the Waterton Lakes National Park townsite and parts of Cardston County, the Municipal District of Pincher Creek. The Blood reserve, a First Nations community southwest of Lethbridge lifted its evacuation order on Wednesday afternoon.
The wildfire was estimated at 440 square kilometres on Wednesday.
A fire truck heads down Highway 6 Tuesday morning near the community of Twin Butte as smoke rises from the mountains and foothills in the background.
Fire damage to the Rocking Heart Ranch just outside Waterton Lakes National Park is shown in a handout photo. With a forecast calling for rain for the next few days, crews fighting a wildfire in Waterton Lakes National Park and the surrounding area in...