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Power restored to Jasper’s critical infrastructure amid raging Chetamon wildfire

Click to play video: 'Rain, cooler temperatures help with Chetamon wildfire battle in Jasper National Park'
Rain, cooler temperatures help with Chetamon wildfire battle in Jasper National Park
WATCH ABOVE: Overnight rain and cooler temperatures on Monday helped firefighters battling the Chetamon wildfire in Jasper National Park access two priority areas of the wildfire. Morgan Black has the latest from Jasper – Sep 6, 2022

ATCO Electricity announced early Tuesday evening that power has been restored to critical infrastructure in Jasper following an unplanned power outage. That outage allowed officials to begin the first phase of power restoration to the townsite.

ATCO had originally planned an outage at 1 p.m. to safely tie in additional power into the system, but said that was cancelled when the unplanned outage to the generator power occurred around 11:30 a.m.

Power restoration is being done in phases, starting with critical infrastructure, which is now complete. Power will then be brought in to segmented parts of the town in phases. ATCO confirmed Tuesday evening they are moving onto the next phase of restoration.

Now that the power is turned back on, both ATCO and Jasper officials stress that people need to continue to conserve the power that is available.

“Once power has been established to homes and businesses, it’s imperative that residents conserve their power,” Mattern said. “Generator power does not have the same reliability when powering from the Alberta grid. Brownouts and blackouts can happen, so conservation would dramatically reduce this.”

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Read more: Power out in Jasper due to Chetamon wildfire, tourists asked to reschedule trips

Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland said the generation power that is coming through will likely be a little bit less than what the community typically uses.

“The demand will outstrip the supply to some extent. So we are really encouraging everyone — residents and businesses — that when the power comes back, still remember to conserve so that there is enough power that everybody gets some,” Ireland said.

ATCO added that residents and businesses should be prepared for potential unplanned outages over the coming days.

Mattern said ATCO has confirmed damage to multiple transmission structures from the Chetamon wildfire. There is no timeline yet for when the infrastructure will be repaired and full power will be restored.

“The area has been deemed safe to enter and Parks Canada will be escorting my team to complete an evaluation of the damage,” she said, adding protection of the infrastructure and mitigating further damage is the priority.

The mayor described this as a “large-scale emergency” as the Chetamon wildfire continues to burn and impact the mountain community.

“Jasper National Park and the municipality of Jasper are currently experiencing significant challenges during this large-scale emergency,” he said. “It’s having a huge impact. Although it was supposed to be back to school today for Jasper kids, school has been delayed. The schools are closed for today because of the power outage.

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“Everybody is impacted, of course. It’s a significant event to lose power for an entire community. But, to the credit of our residents and visitors alike, everyone is taking this with a real calm, considered approach.”

Much of the Jasper townsite remained without power Tuesday morning. ATCO was able to switch critical infrastructure sites to generator power on Monday, including the hospital, fire hall, the municipality’s emergency crisis centre, water and waste treatment plants and the Jasper Activity Centre where stations have been set up for people to charge their phones and other essential devices.

The Jasper Activity Centre is open as a reception centre from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily. Residents can also visit the centre for up-to-date information on the wildfire and the power situation.

“The reception centre that we opened at the activity centre has been really active, and just a real high positive energy,” Ireland said. “People are happy to get out and see their neighbours, charge up their devices, read the information that’s currently available on the fire and on the outage.”

Jasper National Park closing campgrounds

To help focus on restoring all essential services to the community of Jasper, Parks Canada is closing Whistlers and Wapiti campgrounds due to ongoing power issues associated with the Chetamon wildfire.

People currently camping at the campgrounds are being told they must leave by 11 a.m. Wednesday. The sanitary dump station will close at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

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The campground closures are in addition to the closure of the Wabasso campground, which happened on Monday. Jasper National Park said existing backup power systems at these campgrounds are not intended to provide power for an extended period of time.

The emergency power system in these campgrounds only provides sewer and potable water for campers and is not sustainable over the long term.

“We are not anticipating more campground closures,” said Jasmine Ramratan, acting field unit superintendent with Jasper National Park. “The three that we’re talking about — Whistlers, Wapiti and Wabasso — is part of a contingency power plan for the municipality.”

The temporary campsite closures are in place until Sept. 11, park officials said Tuesday.

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Campers affected by the closures will be contacted directly about refunds.

“There are self-registration campgrounds that are still open and if we have visitors who are self-contained who may have brought their own food, who are equipped to provide for themselves while we have these reductions in services in the townsite, then those campsites are not closed,” Ramratan said.

“It should be understood that if they’re reliant on services in town, that level of service is different than we normally would have. So in terms of getting groceries or getting gas, even the most self-contained camper does need those support services at some point, and we are trying to prioritize services to the townsite.”

Wildfire size, risk

Overnight rain and cooler temperatures on Monday helped firefighters and helicopters access two priority areas of the Chetamon wildfire. Firefighters were able to lay out sprinklers and hoses in key areas on the south side of the fire, while air crews made progress bucketing on the north side of the fire.

The wildfire is about 6,150 hectares in size.

Read more: As Jasper’s Chetamon wildfire grows, traffic and power could be affected

While the cooler temperatures have helped fire crews, officials with Jasper National Park said without more rain, the wildfire “will progressively become more intense in the coming days.”

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“There has certainly been a lull. I would say that over the last day and today, our fire teams have been working on putting in place important protections and guards and trying to understand what a change in weather might do,” Ramratan said.

Park officials said no communities are at risk from the lightning-caused wildfire. However, visitors are asked to reconsider travel plans to the area due to the significant challenges caused by the wildfire.

“Now would be a time to reconsider your visitation plans. We are in an active emergency situation. All of the contingency plans that we have in place right now are to provide critical and essential services. So this is not the ideal visitation service offering that we would normally want to offer to our visitors,” Ramratan said.

“If visitors would come back at a different time, we would be able to offer the really good service that we normally strive to achieve.”

An information line has been set up for people to call to receive the most up-to-date information. The number is 780-852-6540.

People are also encouraged to follow ATCO Electric, Jasper National Park and the Municipality of Jasper on social media for updates.

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