Banff residents woke to a hazy sky Tuesday morning as smoke from an estimated 2,000-hectare wildfire in neighbouring Kootenay National Park continued to burn out of control, with fire danger across the mountain parks classified as “high to extreme.”
“In terms of wildfire terminology, it would be considered out of control, but we are actively managing it,” Parks Canada incident commander Jane Park said. “We did complete successful ignition operation yesterday within Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in collaboration with the park and the fire service in B.C. to tie that north flank into avalanche path that exists in the north Simpson area.”
“Basically we burnt out to an avalanche path where there was actually still some snow and it seems to be holding at that avalanche path for now.”
WATCH: Jane Park from Parks Canada updates the fire situation in Alberta and B.C. Tuesday morning
FULL COVERAGE: B.C. wildfires
The fire was detected on Saturday, July 15 in the Verdant Creek area, and the next day moved east and north towards Sunshine Village Ski Resort under winds up to 70 kilometres an hour.
Because of the location, it’s too risky for ground crews or air bombers, so five helicopters are being used to battle the blaze, along with 60 personnel working to contain it.
“It currently sits approximately two kilometres from the Sunshine ski area on the other side of the continental divide,” Park said. “We have the helicopters still bucketing the eastern-most flank of that fire, as well as ground crews at Sunshine Village implementing structure protection measures around the facilities there.”
Watch below: Jane Park from Parks Canada explains what crews were looking for when they were sent up to protect Sunshine Village from wildfire.
A risk assessment found large sprinkler systems set up around the facilities are the primary tool being used at this time.
Park said officials are working in collaboration with Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park and B.C. Wildfire Service, “as the most active flanks are within the provincial park.”
She said there’s no direct threat of the fire travelling into the Bow Valley at this time as it’s still two valleys away.
For precautionary measures, a fire ban enacted for Banff National Park Monday has been extended to include Kootenay and Yoho national parks to reduce the risk of additional fires starting. Waterton Lakes National Park also issued a fire ban, which covers all front and backcountry campgrounds and day-use areas, as well as the townsite.
“We have a lot on our hands, there’s a lot in Western Canada, and nobody wants to see more at this time,” Park said. “The fire danger across the mountain parks is high to extreme.
“I have lived here for last couple decades and have friends in the community and there’s definitely a level of anxiety.”
Watch below: Parks Canada says fire poses ‘no direct threat to Bow Valley’
However, Park said past emergency preparedness training has ensured they are planning to manage the fire appropriately. She said residents in Banff, Canmore, Harvie Heights, Lake Louise and other areas can expect updates should evacuations become necessary.
“At the moment it’s across a mountain range and a couple valleys away from the Bow Valley and we do have trigger points and those kind of things identified in terms of evacuations and notices and things like that, but at this time there’s nothing like that in place.”
Additional crews from within Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Parks Canada network are on hand to deal with any new starts. Despite the precautionary measures, Park emphasized the fire has not entered Banff.
“It’s primarily in Kootenay National Park and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. It has not spread—it has not crossed the border into Banff.”
Watch below: Several national parks implement fire ban