The now 36,000-hectare wildfire burning in Waterton Lakes National Park isn’t posing a threat to the Waterton townsite any longer, but Parks Canada said it may be weeks before residents and business owners are allowed back into the park.
An evacuation order is still in place for the town and the park remains closed. Officials say the fire burning nearby and the ongoing fire operations still pose a risk, and community members shouldn’t try to return.
Several people evacuated from part of the M.D. of Pincher Creek were allowed to return to their homes Thursday afternoon, but were told to prepare to go to houses with no gas, electricity or utilities.
“It’s a good day, we’re happy. But we’re sad for our neighbours,” Sean Carpenter said. “There’s some people that lost a lot, but hopefully we can get them back on their feet and off we go.”
WATCH: As the fire continues to burn near Waterton Lakes National Park, crews are working around the clock to save a part of Alberta’s beloved backcountry. Quinn Campbell reports.
Those living closest to Waterton National Park were allowed back into the evacuation zone for a two-hour window to check on their property and livestock.
Along with continuing firefighting efforts, crews are also doing a detailed assessment of infrastructure and facilities in the area. So far, it’s been confirmed a number of buildings outside the townsite were lost to the fire, including the main Waterton visitor centre.
“The high intensity of the fire has severely impacted the landscape within the park. As a result, many areas will remain unsafe,” Parks Canada said in an update Thursday.
Crews are focusing on protection and restoration of infrastructure as they prepare for re-entry, containing the fire and assessing the impact the fire has had.
The fire has shrunk significantly — at its peak the blaze was about 44,000 hectares in size.
The region has seen cool temperatures and about six millimetres of rain overnight, however Parks Canada said “intense fire behaviour is still possible in these dry conditions.”
Officials also say the favourable weather will help reduce the spread of the fire and new fire starts, adding the fire likely burned deeply due to the dry conditions.
On Monday, Parks Canada said the fire’s spread was due to a drying season that was “likely unprecedented” in southern Alberta fire management.
The fire burning in the Castle drainage is about 500 hectares, officials said, and is burning about 23 kilometres from Castle Mountain Resort and about 30 kilometres from Beaver Mines.
Helicopters continue to bucket water into that area and a guard was created using heavy equipment to help contain that fire.
Special air quality statements were ended Thursday morning for Cardston, Fort Macleod and Magrath. Statements remain in place for Crowsnest Pass, Pincher Creek and Waterton Lakes National Park.
What’s open and what’s closed:
RCMP re-opened the area from Highway 505 south to Township Road 3-2 (Old Basin Road) within the MD of Pincher Creek on Thursday. The area still remains under evacuation alert, however, meaning residents should be prepared to evacuate on short notice.
Utilities have also not yet been restored to the area, so residents that do return are advised to be prepared without electricity and/or gas.
A re-entry plan for residents in the Twin Butte area is being developed. Details will be posted on the MD website when available.
A state of local emergency remains in effect.
The mandatory evacuation order for Cardston County was lifted Thursday.
Mandatory evacuation orders remain in effect for:
Detailed information on affected areas can be found at emergency.alberta.ca
Evacuees should register at the reception centre by phone or email, even if they do not need assistance. Registering will provide a record that you were evacuated and enable authorities to contact you with any new information. Please provide your name, number of people in your party and phone number.
For more information contact the Parks Canada information line at 403-859-5109.
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