With park evacuated, focus is on halting fire's spread

By Geoff Smith (@GeoffSmithLNN on Twitter)
September 9, 2017 - 11:32am

WATERTON LAKES NATIONAL PARK - Officials are pleased with a successful and safe evacuation, as they attempt to keep the Kenow fire from spreading into Waterton Lakes National Park.

The wind continues to be the main concern, as the fire has grown to 8,500 ha. However, with the exception of one small spot fire roughly 0.5 ha in size, it is entirely to the west of the Continental Divide, outside of the park, largely contained to the remote Flathead Valley of B.C.

“The types of fire behaviour we're seeing this year are on the extreme end.”

 

– Rick Kubian

Rick Kubian, area commander, said it was the possibility of the fire spreading quickly across either of two low forested passes that led to Friday's evacuation order, even though the fire is approximately 20 km away from the townsite.

"In the last week (it) took, over one evening, an eight-kilometre run," Kubian said. Field unit superintendent Ifan Thomas said the evacuation was complete by 5 p.m. Friday and the park has been secured and closed to all access except for emergency crews and others with authorization.

Kubian explained once officials made sure the public was safe, they could focus all their attention on the fire itself. That effort now includes around 185 people and seven helicopters. Firefighters from Lethbridge, Taber, Coaldale, Pincher Creek, Cardston County, the M.D. of Willow Creek, and Calgary are all assisting the effort along with RCMP, the B.C. and Alberta wildfire services and the Alberta Emergency Management Agency. A unified command will help keep everyone working together.

Many of the personnel involved are in the townsite and area working on structural protection in the event the fire encroaches on the town. Others are using common methods like directly attacking the fire itself, and burning out fuel to halt its spread. But he adds these are extraordinary conditions.

"The types of fire behaviour we're seeing this year are on the extreme end, and at times it limits the number tools we have in the tool box, just because some of the tools we normally use are ineffective," Kubian said.

Communications officer Natalie Fay said only around ten people had registered with the evacuation centre, but added many had already left the area in the two days prior, while the park was placed on evacuation alert. She still encouraged people to register, in person at the Vertical Church in Pincher Creek, or by phone or email, so that officials could help with alternate accommodations and with the latest information.

Fay added it would also help arrange an orderly return to the park when the order is lifted.

The last fire to threaten the park and prompt an evacuation alert was in 2015. In that case the threat was from the south, in Glacier National Park on the U.S. side. Prior to that the last significant fire was in 1998.

Unprecedented measures taken as wildfire bears down on Waterton

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