Waterton town­site im­mi­nent threat al­le­vi­at­ing

Medicine Hat News - - UP FRONT - NICK KUHL Leth­bridge Herald nkuhl@leth­bridge­herald.com

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.

LETH­BRIDGE HERALD PHOTO IAN MARTENS

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.

CP HANDOUT COUR­TESY SIERRA GARNER

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 south­ern Al­berta have some rea­son for op­ti­mism.

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