Advertisement

Waterton park and townsite under mandatory evacuation due to wildfire

Waterton park and townsite under mandatory evacuation due to wildfire
WATCH: Joe Scarpelli reports from near Waterton Lakes National Park, where the road is blocked after a mandatory evacuation was ordered due to a wildfire.

A mandatory evacuation alert was issued Friday afternoon for Waterton Lakes National Park and townsite as Calgary firefighters were deployed to help, expecting the most action over the next 24 to 48 hours.

“They did an excellent job, everything was smooth and they gave us tons of warning,” said evacuee Drew Galbraith, who has two cabins in Waterton and left with his wife. “It was a shock because I didn’t think it would come, to be honest.

“It’s eerie. They’ve got firefighters, sprinklers running in the mountains, big walls of water in the mountains, in the forest behind the town.

“They’ve got hoses everywhere, they’ve got sprinklers on a lot of the roofs that are wood.”

Watch below: Waterton evacuee Drew Galbraith explains his experience during the evacuation

Waterton evacuee says crews are doing a great job
Waterton evacuee says crews are doing a great job

The alert, effective as of 1:15 p.m. MT, is due to the approaching Kenow Mountain wildfire, which crossed into Alberta through the park.

Story continues below advertisement

A reception centre has been set up in Pincher Creek for evacuees, where cots and blankets have been provided by the National Emergency Stockpile system, a network of warehouses managed by provinces and the federal government that provides various materials including medical units that can be deployed on short notice.

Alberta Environment and Parks said the smoke has left very low visibility in the Waterton area and a fire weather advisory for southern Alberta has been issued. Click here for updates on air quality advisories due to smoke.

Visit AlbertaFireBans.ca for more information on fire restrictions, bans and forest closures.

Click through the gallery below for the latest photos showing Waterton:

Waterton evacuation
The Prince of Wales hotel is still visible amid a wildfire evacuation alert on Sept. 8, 2017. Bryan Passifiume / Calgary Sun
Waterton evacuation
Fire crews installing sprinklers on the Waterton marina, wetting down the docks and building on Sept. 8, 2017. Bryan Passifiume / Calgary Sun
Waterton evacuation
Smoke growing thicker in Waterton amid mandatory evacuation order on Sept. 8, 2017. Bryan Passifiume / Calgary Sun
Waterton evacuation
RCMP and Parks Canada were sweeping the townsite and closing roads on Sept. 8, 2017. Bryan Passifiume / Calgary Sun
Waterton evacuation
Smoke from the Kenow Mountain fire seen from Pincher Creek, Alta. on Sept. 8, 2017. Bryan Passifiume / Calgary Sun
Waterton evacuation
The view from Waterton, Alta. amid a mandatory evacuation order due to an approaching wildfire on Sept. 8, 2017. RCMP Cpl. Curtis Peters
Story continues below advertisement
Waterton web cam Sept 8
The Waterton Lakes National Park webcam shows conditions just before 2 p.m. MT on Sept. 8, 2017. Waterton Lakes National Park webcam

“Residents and visitors evacuating from Waterton Lakes National Park and the Waterton townsite should go to the reception centre at the Vertical Church on 1200 Ken Thornton Blvd. in Pincher Creek, Alta. to check-in and for information,” the alert said.

Story continues below advertisement

Evacuees can check-in in person, by phone at 403-904-0021 or by e-mailing mdinfo@mdpinchercreek.ab.ca. Scroll down to read more info for evacuees.

Evacuee Tom Gilchrist said he was prepared, and so was the park.

“No panic,” he told Global News on his way out. “We’ve been working at this for three days. They all came to the door and said, ‘Tom it’s time to go. You’ve got an hour.’”

For the latest update from Parks Canada, click here

Parks Canada said Friday the fire is primarily in British Columbia, but has “ignited spot fires in the park at the northwestern boundary near Sage Pass.”

Officials are asking people to evacuate immediately and keep in mind visibility will be affected.

Highways 5 and 6 and the Chief Mountain Border crossing remained open as of Friday.

Waterton evacuation map
The evacuation map for those in Waterton Lakes National Park. Parks Canada

Neighbouring fire crews coming to help

The provincial government, working with Parks Canada and Agriculture and Forestry, is arranging for 41 firefighters and three engines, two ladder trucks, three wildland trucks and one water tender from Calgary, Coaldale, Lethbridge, M.D. of Willow Creek and Taber.

Story continues below advertisement

The Calgary Fire Department (CFD) deployed three heavy trucks and about 20 personnel including mechanics and a paramedic to support the town with structural fire protection. Fire Chief Steve Dongworth said they were expected to arrive in Waterton at around 8 p.m. Friday.

Watch below: The Calgary Fire Department is sending crews down to Waterton Lakes National Park to help protect the townsite.

Calgary fire sending crews to help protect Waterton townsite
Calgary fire sending crews to help protect Waterton townsite

Dongworth said crews were told to prepare to be there for a week or more and that changing winds are expected to get stronger over the next 24 hours.

“We were also told if the fire moves towards the town, it’s likely to come the closest within the next day or two,” he said. “So we’re anticipating fairly soon after we arrive that we might be into a situation where we’re doing some active firefighting.

Story continues below advertisement

“The structures that are in that town…a lot of those structures are actually quite old, historical structures, so it’s very important to try and get ahead of that.”

Calgary fire trucks
Calgary fire trucks leaving for Waterton to assist in structural protection as needed in the town. Sept. 8, 2017. Rick Copley / Global News
Listen below: Cpl. Curtis Peters is currently watching vehicles leave the town of Waterton, where he says smoke is unbelievably thick

Dongworth reassured Calgarians that off-duty personnel and spare apparatus were being sent, so the CFD is prepared amid the city’s dry conditions should any wildland fires occur in Calgary over the coming days.

Story continues below advertisement

For information on the current status of Alberta wildfires, click here. For B.C. wildfires, click here.

If you see a wildfire in the forest, report it at 310-FIRE (3473)

How the fire started

The fire was caused by a lightning strike last week in the Flathead Valley, just across the continental divide in British Columbia.

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.

READ MORE: Fire threatening Waterton grows north along Alberta border

Information from Parks Canada for residents under evacuation:

  • You must leave the area immediately;
  • Follow the travel route provided on the map (see above);
  • If you need transportation assistance to leave Waterton, please (a) advise the individual providing you with this in-person notice, (b) go to Waterton Park Community Centre or (c) call 403-859-5109 if you cannot do (a) or (b);
  • Close all windows and doors;
  • Shut off all gas and electrical appliances, other than refrigerators and freezers;
  • Close gates (latch) but do not lock;
  • Gather your family: take a neighbour or someone who needs help;
  • Take critical items (medicine, purse, wallet, important documents, and keys) only if they are immediately available;
  • Take pets in pet kennels or on leash;
  • Do not use the telephone unless you need emergency service;
  • Emergency personnel will check all houses and locations and mark them when cleared;
  • Travel will only be permitted out of the park. Admittance at the Waterton Lakes National Park gate will be limited to emergency vehicles.
  • All evacuees are strongly recommended to register at the reception and evacuation centre located in Pincher Creek at the Vertical Church (1200 Ken Thornton Blvd., located just south of Co-Op and Vista Village), even if you do not require assistance. Registering will provide a record that you were evacuated and enable authorities to contact you with any new information. You can register by email to mdinfo@mdpinchercreek.ab.ca (put in subject line: “Evac Registration”) or by phoning 403-904-0021. Please provide name, number in party and contact phone number.

For more information contact the Parks Canada information line at 403-859-5109.

Story continues below advertisement

Waterton Lakes National Park area and history

Waterton Lakes National Park covers an area of 505 square kilometres, according to Parks Canada.

It’s one of Alberta’s windiest places, with common winter wind speeds of over 100 km/h.

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

More than half of the province’s plant species are found in the park, along with more than 60 mammal species, 250 bird species, 24 fish species and 10 reptile and amphibian species.

There are two national historic sites within Waterton’s boundaries: the Prince of Wales Hotel and the First Oil Well in Western Canada.

Parks Canada operates three campgrounds in the park: Belly River Campground, Crandell Campground and Townsite Campground.

It’s open year-round, though much is closed over winter; the busiest months are June through September. The busiest time for tourism is in July and August.

Watch below from Sept. 6: Dennis Madsen from Parks Canada warned the fire could lead to a full evacuation of Waterton Lakes National Park.

Parks Canada concerned weather change could grow fire into Waterton
Parks Canada concerned weather change could grow fire into Waterton

 

Story continues below advertisement