The Kenow Mountain wildfire from British Columbia has crossed the continental divide into Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park and grown rapidly overnight, posing a threat not only to the Waterton townsite but also to several other southern Alberta communities.
The fire spread into the Cameron Valley and was “firmly established” along the Akamina Parkway on Monday afternoon, officials said in an evening update.
The advancing fire resulted in more evacuations being ordered on Monday night and early Tuesday morning.
WATCH: Don’t expect Mother Nature to help out with Waterton fire in next 48 hours
Blood Tribe local state of emergency
The Blood Tribe declared a local state of emergency early Tuesday morning due to the Waterton Parks wildfire potentially reaching the community, located southwest of Lethbridge.
A mandatory evacuation order was declared for the zone 1 area, which includes Fish Creek, St. Paul’s area extending north to Russell/ Many Fingers residences.
An alert from the Blood Tribe said the multipurpose building in Standoff has been opened to receive evacuees, and even those not planning to stay at the building are asked to register at the multipurpose building.
An evacuation advisory was issued for zone 3 (north of Russell / Many Fingers residences extending to Lavern and little Chicago area), and residents were told t be prepared to evacuate and take necessary precautions.
Those unable to evacuate by themselves were asked to contact Blood Tribe police for assistance.
Pincher Creek area
At 10:27 p.m., Parks Canada ordered a mandatory evacuation for residents of the Municipal District of Pincher Creek who are south of Township Road 3-0 within Township 02, Range 29.
WATCH: Viewer video of the Kenow Mountain wildfire that can be seen from Waterton Lakes National Park.
“Residents of this area should leave,” Parks Canada said in an emergency alert. “Head north on Highway 6. A reception centre is activated at the Vertical Church, 1200 Ken Thornton Blvd.”
Shortly after 11:30 p.m., the Municipal District of Pincher Creek No. 9 issued a mandatory evacuation notice for people living south of Spread Eagle Road (Township Road 3-4).
“Residents of this area should leave,” the emergency alert said. “Head north on Highway 6.”
Those evacuees were also being asked to report at the Vertical Church reception centre or to register by phone.
Shortly before midnight, the RCMP told Global News officers were knocking on doors south of Twin Butte, waking people up to tell them they need to leave the area because of the wildfire.
The area that Mounties were evacuating is within the Municipal District of Pincher Creek.
The RCMP added that the actual town of Pincher Creek was not immediately at risk because of the fire.
Shortly after 12:30 a.m., the Municipal District of Pincher Creek No. 9 declared a state of local emergency for Division 1 and issued a mandatory evacuation order for people south of Highway 505 to Waterton Park.
“Residents of this area should leave,” officials said, adding evacuees should head north on Highway 6 and to register in person at the Vertical Church or by phone.
Cardston County state of emergency
At around 9 p.m., Cardston County issued a precautionary alert telling area residents to prepare for a possible “voluntary” evacuation because of “changing conditions in Waterton Lakes National Park.”
“If an evacuation order is issued, you must be prepared to leave within one hour,” the county said on its Facebook page. “This affects the area from the Waterton Lakes National Park border to Highway 800.”
At 11:44 p.m., Cardston County declared a local state of emergency, saying the Waterton fire “has left Waterton Park and has entered the county.”
“Smoke may severely reduce visibility and create hazardous road conditions,” the county said in an emergency alert.
An evacuation centre has been set up at the Civic Centre at 67 3 Ave. W. in the town of Cardston.
“Evacuate immediately all areas between Waterton Park and Range Road 281 (Highway 800) from the U.S border north to Township Road 40,” the county said.
“Take all necessary precautions. Follow the directions of local authorities. Visibility will be affected. Avoid the area.”
Scroll to the bottom of the story for more information for evacuees.
Mountain View School classes cancelled
At about 10:30 p.m., Westwind School Division No.74 said it was cancelling classes at Mountain View School in Mountain View, Alta. on Tuesday because of the danger posed by the wildfire in Waterton Lakes National Park.
In a Facebook post, the school division said it was also cancelling the bus that travels from Mountain View to Cardston High School and that it wasn’t ruling out the possibility of cancelling classes at other schools.
“We are monitoring this situation closely and are in communication with Cardston County as this situation develops,” the school division said. “We will post notifications on the division website, Facebook, and Twitter if more schools are cancelled for Sept. 12.”
The Municipal District of Taber Regional Fire Department posted several photos to its Facebook page on Monday night, revealing that the glow of the wildfire was now visible both in the Waterton town site and in Cameron Valley.
“Be safe ladies and gentlemen – our prayers are with you all,” one of the photo’s captions read.
View photos below posted by the Municipal District of Taber Regional Fire Department on Monday evening:
View photos below of the new visitor centre in the Cameron Lake area which is potentially threatened by the Kenow Mountain wildfire:
A new fire which started in Tamarack Basin, which was reported at about 50 hectares in size on Monday morning, is also expected to grow and move into the Blakiston Valley and Red Rock Parkway. The wildfire could reach the town by either the Akamina, Red Rock or Blakiston drainages.
Highways 5 and 6 have been closed at the boundaries of the national park.
Parks Canada officials said as of Monday at 1 p.m. MT the fire was only about 15 kilometres from the Waterton townsite. Officials didn’t say how much closer the fire has gotten to the town.
Under specific alignment of winds and challenging fire suppression conditions, the fire could travel to the townsite within one day, however area commander Rick Kubian said they’re confident they’ll be able to slow that spread.
Parks Canada said they expect to see similar weather conditions and intense fire behaviour on Tuesday.
Because the fire has been growing in British Columbia in recent weeks, Kubian said they’ve had time to plan and prepare for its approach.
“It is a very serious event that we’re involved in here, the result of a summer-long drying event that is likely unprecedented in wildfire management in southern Alberta,” Kubian said.
Kubian said that based on the weather forecast, there should only be two or three more major burning days in the area.
Fourteen aircraft, multiple fire engines, water tenders, 16 structural and wildland fire crews and 185 personnel are fighting the blaze, and fire protection measures are in place on critical infrastructure, park resources and in the townsite.
Officials have containment options including identifying areas for burnouts and sprinkler lines aimed at slowing or stopping the fire if it does cross into the park.
Crews are also working aggressively to stop the fire from spreading to the Castle drainages.
The most intense burning periods are happening between the hours of 4 and 6 p.m., Parks Canada said.
WATCH: Global News anchor Liam Nixon talks to Parks Canada’s John Stoesser updating the Kenow Mountain wildfire.
Residents ‘worried but hopeful’
“For the residents, it’s just a waiting game,” evacuee Dave Formosa told Global News. “We’re just waiting to hear what happened, what’s going to happen. We’re just hoping for any kind of word that’s going to give us hope that we can go back home.”
Click here for public weather alerts in Alberta, including air quality advisories due to smoke.
Formosa and his fiancee Mandy Mulcahy recently moved to the village in Waterton from Ontario.
“It’s worrisome, but I am hopeful that the firefighters and everyone will keep their game plan and work through it,” Mulcahy said, adding the updates have been causing some anxiety.
“It gets a little worrisome because we see how far the fire’s moved and how close it’s getting, so I mean, there is a chance it could blow through the town.”
“For the most part, especially with the kids there, they kind of keep everybody’s mind occupied, playing soccer and hide-and-go-seek and messing around… it’s kind of mixed emotions.”
Waterton Lakes National Park is closed and both the park and townsite were issued a mandatory evacuation order on Friday.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) is also restricting visitations at the Cardston and Pincher Creek hospitals, as smoke has been getting into the buildings when the doors open.
“If visits are not truly urgent, we are asking people to postpone visiting until the air quality improves,” AHS spokesperson Sherri Gallant said in an email, adding that forecasts don’t predict the condition will improve very soon.
Gallant went on to say that there are no restrictions on people visiting the evacuation centres.
A reception centre has been set up for evacuees in Pincher Creek. Waterton evacuees are asked to register by calling 403-904-0021 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also register with authorities in person at the Vertical Church on 1200 Ken Thornton Blvd. in Pincher Creek, Alta.
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 email@example.com (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.
—With files from Global’s Joel Senick and Joe Scarpelli