Laurie Hardingham gazes out the front window of her Banff home.
She’s lived in the mountain town for 52 years but never has her view been as skewed as the past two summers.
“It’s our new norm,” she said, apologizing for the raspiness in her voice.
“I have asthma… the smoke has been so bad.”
It’s not just the smoke irritating residents. The threat of an actual wildfire is a constant concern, the smoke an eerie and unnerving reminder.
“It does quite worry me, the forest is in the back yard so if a fire started here we’d have to get out and there probably wouldn’t be much love,” Hardingham said.
Banff deputy fire chief Mike Geisler said because the forests around the town have not burned in over a hundred years the risk is very real.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Geisler said.
On August 11, a lightning strike ignited a small fire on nearby Rundle Mountain.
It smoldered for five days before ground crews were lowered in by helicopter and were able put it out. So far this summer, there have been six fires caused by lightning strikes in Banff National Park. Twenty other fires were started by humans.
“We are prepared for those fires that are coming. Rundle is a good example of that. We’d do smoke patrols and keep helicopters and attack crews on stand by to maintain that readiness in the park,”Erin Tassel, fire management officer for Banff National Park said.
The town’s fire smart program has been in place for well over a decade but officials have added to it in recent years and months.
Residents with cedar shingles can get $900 if they replace their roofs with non combustible material.
So far, 20 of the 255 combustible roofs in the town have been changed.
There is also an incentive to remove flammable evergreens brushing up too close to homes. If homeowners can get remove those trees, they can apply to have the town deliver a leafy tree for free.
Laurie Hardingham has already replaced her roof and pruned her trees. She is now waiting for the smoke to lift so she and so many others can breath easier.