Waterton park and townsite under mandatory evacuation due to wildfire

08 September 2017

published by http://globalnews.ca

Canada - A mandatory evacuation alert was issued Friday afternoon for Waterton Lakes National Park and townsite as Calgary firefighters were deployed to help, expecting the most action over the next 24 to 48 hours.

“They did an excellent job, everything was smooth and they gave us tons of warning,” said evacuee Drew Galbraith, who has two cabins in Waterton and left with his wife. “It was a shock because I didn’t think it would come, to be honest.

“It’s eerie. They’ve got firefighters, sprinklers running in the mountains, big walls of water in the mountains, in the forest behind the town.

“They’ve got hoses everywhere, they’ve got sprinklers on a lot of the roofs that are wood.”

The alert, effective as of 1:15 p.m. MT, is due to the approaching Kenow Mountain wildfire, which crossed into Alberta through the park.

A reception centre has been set up in Pincher Creek for evacuees, where cots and blankets have been provided by the National Emergency Stockpile system, a network of warehouses managed by provinces and the federal government that provides various materials including medical units that can be deployed on short notice.

Alberta Environment and Parks said the smoke has left very low visibility in the Waterton area and a fire weather advisory for southern Alberta has been issued. Click here for updates on air quality advisories due to smoke.

Visit AlbertaFireBans.ca for more information on fire restrictions, bans and forest closures.

“Residents and visitors evacuating from Waterton Lakes National Park and the Waterton townsite should go to the reception centre at the Vertical Church on 1200 Ken Thornton Blvd. in Pincher Creek, Alta. to check-in and for information,” the alert said.

Evacuees can check-in in person, by phone at 403-904-0021 or by e-mailing mdinfo@mdpinchercreek.ab.ca. Scroll down to read more info for evacuees.

Evacuee Tom Gilchrist said he was prepared, and so was the park.

“No panic,” he told Global News on his way out. “We’ve been working at this for three days. They all came to the door and said, ‘Tom it’s time to go. You’ve got an hour.’”

For the latest update from Parks Canada, click here

Parks Canada said Friday the fire is primarily in British Columbia, but has “ignited spot fires in the park at the northwestern boundary near Sage Pass.”

Officials are asking people to evacuate immediately and keep in mind visibility will be affected.

Highways 5 and 6 and the Chief Mountain Border crossing remained open as of Friday.

Neighbouring fire crews coming to help

The provincial government, working with Parks Canada and Agriculture and Forestry, is arranging for 41 firefighters and three engines, two ladder trucks, three wildland trucks and one water tender from Calgary, Coaldale, Lethbridge, M.D. of Willow Creek and Taber.

The Calgary Fire Department (CFD) deployed three heavy trucks and about 20 personnel including mechanics and a paramedic to support the town with structural fire protection. Fire Chief Steve Dongworth said they were expected to arrive in Waterton at around 8 p.m. Friday.

Dongworth said crews were told to prepare to be there for a week or more and that changing winds are expected to get stronger over the next 24 hours.

“We were also told if the fire moves towards the town, it’s likely to come the closest within the next day or two,” he said. “So we’re anticipating fairly soon after we arrive that we might be into a situation where we’re doing some active firefighting.

“The structures that are in that town…a lot of those structures are actually quite old, historical structures, so it’s very important to try and get ahead of that.”

Dongworth reassured Calgarians that off-duty personnel and spare apparatus were being sent, so the CFD is prepared amid the city’s dry conditions should any wildland fires occur in Calgary over the coming days.

How the fire started

The fire was caused by a lightning strike last week in the Flathead Valley, just across the continental divide in British Columbia.

Park resource conservation manager Dennis Madsen said winds pushed the Kenow Mountain fire to do a “long seven-kilometre run” Saturday night, landing it at the border of the southern Alberta tourist destination in a matter of hours.

Information from Parks Canada for residents under evacuation:

You must leave the area immediately;
Follow the travel route provided on the map (see above);
If you need transportation assistance to leave Waterton, please (a) advise the individual providing you with this in-person notice, (b) go to Waterton Park Community Centre or (c) call 403-859-5109 if you cannot do (a) or (b);
Close all windows and doors;
Shut off all gas and electrical appliances, other than refrigerators and freezers;
Close gates (latch) but do not lock;
Gather your family: take a neighbour or someone who needs help;
Take critical items (medicine, purse, wallet, important documents, and keys) only if they are immediately available;
Take pets in pet kennels or on leash;
Do not use the telephone unless you need emergency service;
Emergency personnel will check all houses and locations and mark them when cleared;
Travel will only be permitted out of the park. Admittance at the Waterton Lakes National Park gate will be limited to emergency vehicles.
All evacuees are strongly recommended to register at the reception and evacuation centre located in Pincher Creek at the Vertical Church (1200 Ken Thornton Blvd., located just south of Co-Op and Vista Village), even if you do not require assistance. Registering will provide a record that you were evacuated and enable authorities to contact you with any new information. You can register by email to mdinfo@mdpinchercreek.ab.ca (put in subject line: “Evac Registration”) or by phoning 403-904-0021. Please provide name, number in party and contact phone number.
For more information contact the Parks Canada information line at 403-859-5109.

Waterton Lakes National Park area and history

Waterton Lakes National Park covers an area of 505 square kilometres, according to Parks Canada.

It’s one of Alberta’s windiest places, with common winter wind speeds of over 100 km/h.

READ MORE: Wildfire risk prompts government to expand closures in Alberta

More than half of the province’s plant species are found in the park, along with more than 60 mammal species, 250 bird species, 24 fish species and 10 reptile and amphibian species.

There are two national historic sites within Waterton’s boundaries: the Prince of Wales Hotel and the First Oil Well in Western Canada.

Parks Canada operates three campgrounds in the park: Belly River Campground, Crandell Campground and Townsite Campground.

It’s open year-round, though much is closed over winter; the busiest months are June through September. The busiest time for tourism is in July and August.