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Alberta calls for ‘voluntary evacuation’ of Waterton Lakes National Park over ‘serious wildfire’

Click to play video 'Parks Canada issues voluntary evacuation alert for Waterton Lakes National Park because of wildfire risk' Parks Canada issues voluntary evacuation alert for Waterton Lakes National Park because of wildfire risk
WATCH ABOVE: With spot fires showing up in Waterton Lakes National Park as an out-of-control wildfire continues to grow along the park's border with B.C., Parks Canada called for a voluntary evacuation of the park Tuesday night. Joe Scarpelli reports.

UPDATE: Fire threatening Waterton grows north along Alberta border, may pass into Castle river valley

The Alberta government issued an emergency alert calling for a “voluntary evacuation” of Waterton Lakes National Park in the southwest part of the province on Tuesday night because of a “serious wildfire” that threatened to affect the resort community.

“Cottagers, campers and visitors are encouraged to leave the area,” the government said. “All trails and park waters in the park are closed. Only the entrance parkway and the town site remain open.

“A reception centre has not been established but will be established if the situation worsens.”

The voluntary evacuation advisory includes not just the national park, but also the community of Waterton, which has a population of about 100 people.

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People trying to leave Waterton were advised to leave “if it is safe to do so” and were being told Highways 5 and 6 and the Chief Mountain Border crossing remain open.

The government also asked people in the area to listen to local media reports and to follow officials’ directions.

“There is no immediate threat, but this pre-emptive action allows us to be ready for a forecasted change in weather in a couple days,” Parks Canada said in a statement posted to its website Tuesday night.

Parks Canada added there were some “some small spot fires” burning in the park near Sage Pass.

“The helicopters will continue bucketing at Sage Pass if needed.”

“We’ve fortunately had winds that have been light and from the north and east and the fire has not expanded across the (continental) divide too much,” Dennis Madsen, resource conservation manager for Waterton Lakes National Park, said in a phone call Tuesday night.

“The favourable wind conditions we’re taking advantage of right now to get prepared are going to end – probably in the vicinity of the weekend – and with that happening, there will be a much larger wildfire burning out of control on our western doorstep and we can expect strong west and southwest winds to push that fire into Waterton in the coming days.”

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Madsen said the voluntary evacuation order was issued to avoid a situation where people get caught in remote locations where they couldn’t be notified of a mandatory evacuation order or be able to get out in a “timely fashion.”

“We put out the (voluntary) evacuation order at this time to give people time to react safely,” he said. “If we have to go to an (mandatory) evacuation notice, at that point, when that’s issued, people have one hour to leave the park.”

Madsen added while people are still allowed to drive into the town and campsite, he advises against doing so.

“One of the concerns we have is that the fire may in fact threaten the only access point into the town site, so now is not the time to come to Waterton.”

Multiple area closures were announced for the national park due to “extreme fire hazard” near the popular tourist destination on Sunday.

“The Kenow Mountain fire, immediately to the west of Waterton Lakes National Park in southeast British Columbia, is now on the park boundary at Sage Pass and South Kootenay Pass,” Parks Canada said in a Sept. 3 update.

Waterton closure Sept 3
Waterton Lakes National Park had closed several areas due to fire hazard on Sept. 3, 2017. Parks Canada

A Parks Canada team was on site on Tuesday night, along with three attack crews and five helicopters. Another crew was expected to arrive on Wednesday.

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The fire is currently about 65 square kilometres in size.

Waterton National Park borders on Montana’s Glacier National Park in the U.S.

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

Watch below: On Sept. 5, 2017, Matt Battochio filed this report after the government closed fire protection areas as well as park trails and campgrounds in southern Alberta due to extreme wildfire risk.

Click to play video 'Wildfire risk prompts southern Alberta area closures' Wildfire risk prompts southern Alberta area closures
Wildfire risk prompts southern Alberta area closures

At around 8 p.m. on Monday night, the Alberta government announced it was closing “fire protection areas” to the public because of the “dangerous wildfire conditions” in southwestern Alberta.

The closures affects three different “fire control zones” south of Highway 532 to the U.S. border and west to the B.C. border.

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Alberta forest area closure as of Sept 4
The Alberta government closed this area of the province effective Sept. 4, 2017 due to wildfire risk. Alberta government

-With files from Tom Roulston, Erika Tucker and The Canadian Press.