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Highway 93 open to B.C. Alberta border following closure due to wildfire smoke

Thurs, Aug. 3: The highway that winds through British Columbia's Kootenay National Park was closed for much of the day Wednesday as wildfire smoke made for dangerous driving conditions. Jenna Freeman reports.

Highway 93 is now open in both directions between Radium Hot Springs and the B.C. Alberta border after being closed Wednesday due to smoke from the Verdant Creek wildfire burning in Kootenay National Park and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.

However, more closures might happen without notice, depending on fire behaviour.

Highway 93 between Alberta and B.C. re-opened after fire
Highway 93 between Alberta and B.C. re-opened after fire

READ MORE: Sunshine Village to become ‘command centre’ for Verdant Creek firefighting efforts

“A shift in wind direction on August 1 permitted Parks Canada fire management crews to carry out direct fire suppression work on the northern side of the fire using air and ground crews,” Parks Canada said Wednesday, adding officials will continue to directly suppress the northern side of the fire as weather permits.

WATCH: Video courtesy of Crown Land Productions shows heavy smoke drifting into Banff from the Verdant Creek wildfire in B.C. 

Timelapse shows heavy B.C. wildfire smoke drifting through Banff
Timelapse shows heavy B.C. wildfire smoke drifting through Banff

Parks Canada says the fire has reached approximately 11,000 hectares in size—double the previous day’s estimate.

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“That’s significantly larger than the last estimate, mostly due to the fact we were unable to get to southern end of the fire to do accurate mapping due to smoke,” Parks Canada incident commander Jane Park said Wednesday at noon.

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Radium Wednesday morning.
Radium Wednesday morning.

Park said there are several ways to map a fire, but all figures are estimates at this point.

“We use remote sensing to get much more accurate predictions but that’s not possible at this time due to operations and the smoke.”

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Global News was on scene at Castle Junction, where smoke was no longer visible as of noon Wednesday. However, Park explained the visibility decreased drastically in certain areas of the road, increasing the risk of collisions.

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“If you were to drive further south…it’s under 100 metres in some place, probably under 50 metres,” she said. “It is extremely dense in certain areas.”

WATCH: Highway 93 was closed in both directions between Radium Hot Springs and the B.C. Alberta border Wednesday morning due to a wildfire burning in the region. David Boushy reports.

Wildfire closes Highway 93 in both directions to B.C. Alberta border
Wildfire closes Highway 93 in both directions to B.C. Alberta border

The fire is believed to have been caused by lightning and has forced the closure of the Mount Assiniboine park until further notice.

Park said there have been no new fire starts in the Banff, Kootenay or Yoho parks in the past few days. A fire ban remains in place in those parks.

FULL COVERAGE: B.C. wildfires

Verdant Creek wildfire
Smoke seen from the Verdant Creek wildfire on Aug. 2, 2017. Parks Canada

The B.C. Wildfire Service said warmer temperatures will continue to produce increased fire activity along the remote southern boundary of the Verdant Creek fire.

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This activity, along with potential burn out operations will potentially produce a large smoke column that may be visible from the Bow and Columbia Valleys in the afternoons, and may settle into valley bottoms in the evening.

Verdant Creek wildfire
Parks Canada fire crews work on direct suppression of the northern end of the Verdant Creek wildfire. Parks Canada

Effective Thursday, Parks Canada will be using Banff’s Sunshine Village ski resort as a command centre for fire operations. She said the same smoke seen on the highways is affecting operations for personnel currently based in Kootenay, which spurred the move to Sunshine Village.

MAP: Wildfires burning around B.C.

“Our intent is to have as few impacts on Sunshine Village and any commercial operations in the vicinity of the fire as we can, in terms of safely managing the fire and making it safe for staff and guests of these accommodations and commercial operations,” Park said.

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“Our decision to move into Sunshine Village this time is mostly due to smoke and making sure we weren’t grounded on this side of the divide because of smoke.”

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Park said they would try to reopen the ski resort as quickly as possible.

“We work with owners quite closely on a daily basis to update them and we also receive their feedback in terms of how things are going.”

At Castle Junction. Credit: Dani Lantela / Global News
At Castle Junction. Credit: Dani Lantela / Global News