Parks officials say a fire caused by a lightning strike last week in the Flathead Valley, just across the continental divide in British Columbia, is expected to move into Waterton Lakes National Park (WLNP) and potentially into the Castle river valley due to dryness and a forecasted change in wind conditions.
Park resource conservation manager Dennis Madsen said winds pushed the Kenow Mountain fire to do a “long seven-kilometre run” Saturday night, landing it at the border of the southern Alberta tourist destination in a matter of hours. He estimated the fire is currently about 15 kilometres from the park, “as the crow flies.”
Watch below: Dennis Madsen from Parks Canada updates the fire situation Wednesday in Waterton Lakes National Park.
“The forest conditions out there are extremely dry at this point; they really can’t get much drier than they currently are,” Madsen said.
“It can move very, very quickly. And given that it’s a force of nature, it’s not something we can actually just stop if it decides to make a move. So when it decides to make a move, the winds are going to determine what that is.”
The fire then spotted into the park, spurring fire crews and equipment from one of Parks Canada’s national incident management teams to travel to Waterton. It’s now estimated at about 6,500 hectares in size.
For information on the current status of Alberta wildfires, click here
Madsen said an evacuation alert issued Tuesday is a precautionary step and that no one is in danger at this time. The next step is an evacuation notice, at which point people have an hour to leave.
WATCH: Dennis Madsen from Parks Canada explains what fire activity could lead to a full evacuation of Waterton Lakes National Park.
All area trails and waters are closed.
“Now is not the time to come to Waterton,” he said. “And unless someone has a very good reason to be in the park…get yourself prepared, get everything you need and move to a safer location.
“If we get a single burning period that’s bad, it could either affect the town site or it could threaten the single road we have accessing the community of Waterton. So we’re not going to have people staying in there when their only evacuation route is potentially threatened.”
Madsen said the fire is immediately outside three low treed passes along the divide.
“All it’s going to take is a wind to get ahold of that fire and move it over those passes, and it will come into Waterton Lakes National Park.”
He expected more resources to be sent to the area as the fire continues to grow. The province of Alberta, the provincial operations centre and various firefighting teams are currently assisting.
With files from Global’s Matt Battochio