Waterton fire remains out of control, but less aggressive

By Patrick Burles - @PatrickBurles on Twitter
September 12, 2017 - 10:16pm Updated: September 12, 2017 - 11:13pm

PINCHER CREEK – With the winds that have been fanning the Kenow fire slowing down a little Tuesday night (Sept. 12), officials involved in the battle against the wildfire provided an update on the situation.

“It is out of control, it's still classified as out of control, and it will probably remain out of control for some time, until we see a significant change in the fire behaviour,” stated wildfire information officer Leslie Lozinski, who also noted that the fire has now grown to roughly 33,000 hectares.

“The fire behaviour yesterday (Sept. 11) was extraordinary, it was very aggressive,” continued Lozinski. “We were working with extreme winds, we had very low humidity and we had warm temperatures. Today, the fire behaviour is less aggressive because of the weather. You can feel it out there, the humidity feels a little bit higher, it's a little bit cooler out there, the winds weren't as strong as they were predicted to be today, which is all great things for us.”

She went on to explain that the smoke, which is generally seen as a negative for health and aircraft operations, assisted firefighters.

“In this case, the smoke was actually working to our advantage, it acted as a little hood, or a little vent or a little cover over top of the fire, and that helped the behaviour settle down just a little bit, so we didn't experience the aggressive fire behaviour that we experienced yesterday.”

Lozinski also expressed some optimism, referring to the weather forecast that is calling for rain later in the week.

When asked about the current state of the Waterton townsite, park officials reaffirmed that to this point, the visitors centre – which is technically outside the townsite – is the only building that has been reported as being lost. All indications so far suggest that the remainder of the buildings survived, including the Prince of Wales Hotel.

“Fortunately, when the fire was moving quickly through the park towards the Waterton townsite, the preparation work that had been done by all the firefighting resources out there, and the preplanning and the work that we'd done, led to a successful operation there in the townsite of Waterton,” stated Scott Elliot, incident commander with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

“The firefighters who were on scene, as the fire approached, performed excellent work and the townsite was saved. There was some damage to some structures throughout the town there, but the overall preparation and work that was done was excellent there last night under some very challenging conditions.”

In a media release issued after the briefing, it was noted that roughly 60 structural firefighters are working in the townsite to protect the buildings.

The update for property owners outside the park was not as positive, with Elliot acknowledging that the quick spread of the fire beyond the park boundaries resulted in damage to several structures in the M.D. of Pincher Creek and Cardston County. An assessment of those losses is ongoing, with no official word on how many buildings burned.

During the media briefing, Pincher Creek Mayor Don Anderberg told reporters that the community which has taken in evacuees from Waterton, is making plans of its own, should the fire increase suddenly again.

“Last night it was pretty scary. Midnight, one o'clock, it looked like the Town of Pincher Creek may be fully involved in this event also,” stated Anderberg. “Right at the moment, it looks more favourable, but that could certainly change. We have developed a plan to evacuate the rest of the M.D. residents in the south, if need be, and a plan to evacuate the Town of Pincher Creek if need be, and hopefully we don't get to that point, but that's in place.”

When asked about the impact of the fire on wildlife, Waterton Superintendent, Ifan Thomas, said it's too early to say, as an assessment will have to wait until after the fire is contained. He added that wildlife is generally good at avoiding fires and that there are still plenty of unaffected areas that they could move to around the park.

The Kenow Fire: By the Numbers (Sept. 12, 9:30 p.m.)

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