By Nick Kuhl on September 14, 2017.
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 re-entry 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.
“The Castle Mountain Community Association has also been doing a fantastic job at communicating and working with residents to ensure their property is safe and secure. Our staff that have been displaced are all staying with friends and coworkers at this time.
“We thank everyone for thinking of us, working together and helping out our friends and neighbours in the surrounding communities. Our hearts go out to our friends in Waterton Lakes National Park, the MD of Pincher Creek, the Blood Reserve, and Cardston County who have been affected by this beast of a wildfire. While we are not out of the woods yet, it has not broken our strong southwestern Albertan resolve. Think rain and snow!”
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