LETHBRIDGE – The wildfire situation in and around Waterton Lakes National Park has improved, but the fire remains out of control.
That was a significant part of the message relayed to members of the public who called in to participate in a telephone town hall meeting with Alberta government and Parks Canada officials Wednesday night (Sept. 13).
Emergency management information officer, Natalie Fay, explained that early steps to protect the Waterton townsite – including a burnout of vegetation and containment lines using fire retardant – were very successful, and that a drop in the wind, cooler temperatures and increased humidity helped to calm the blaze, which now covers approximately 35,000 hectares.
A recurring question from many who called in, was the extent of damage to structures throughout both the Waterton townsite and park. However, that was one Fay wasn’t fully prepared to answer.
“What I can say is the townsite is intact. I was on site yesterday, and it was very inspiring to see the fantastic work that was done well in advance to protect this townsite,” said Fay. “Now of course, we have to keep in mind that sprinklers have been running for many days now, so we still need to complete a detailed assessment.
“We want to make sure that we have all of the information, that we've been able to fully assess all of the properties, and then we will communicate with those property owners to let them know the status of their properties.”
Fay did acknowledge that the visitor centre and Alpine Stables outside of the townsite boundary were lost to the fire, but said she could not confirm whether the golf course had been impacted as well.
When pressed for answers on questions about campsites and even the impact on wildlife, Fay said it was all part of the assessment that is ongoing, and that they would provide that information as soon as possible. She added that for the moment, the main focus remains on battling the wildfire.
To that point, she added that while things have improved, it will still be some time before residents can return.
“We wish to remind the public and community of Waterton and surrounding areas that the Kenow fire is still active in the area and within the park boundaries... Even though the townsite is not under immediate threat, there are still risks due to the activity of fire nearby and ongoing fire operations.”
Provincial Environment and Parks minister, Shannon Phillips, was also a part of the discussion. She addressed how those with livestock still in the affected area should proceed.
“If there are specific livestock concerns, I would encourage you to reach out to the operations division of Environment and Parks to discuss those with them, and we can see if we can make a plan,” said Phillips. “For the permit holders that were not able to move their livestock or they have other livestock concerns, please don't hesitate to reach out to your local E and P field staff.”
With improvement coming on the Waterton front, the fire in the south Castle area was addressed.
Incident commander Rick Moore, noted that while the light winds have helped in Waterton, that hasn’t been the case in the south Castle.
“The winds have been very extreme, so we've only been able to do water bucketing activities for the morning period. So, we've been starting at first light, and as soon as the winds come up, we've had to kind of curtail those activities. But to date, those activities have been very successful.”
Despite that, Phillips pointed out that the fire on the west side of Sage Mountain didn’t grow on Wednesday, remaining at roughly 500 hectares. She said that as of that afternoon, it was 23 kilometres from Castle Mountain Resort and 30 km from Beaver Mines.
Another important note for landowners in Cardston County came from the community’s director of emergency management, Murray Millward.
“We encourage our landowners that are into the forested area, to create a break around each of their residence, so as a fire guard,” said Millward. “We're asking the landowners to help create their own barriers to help stop the wildfires.”
For those who still have questions, you can ask them online at emergency.alberta.ca.
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