Banff assesses the damage left by out of control fire

Click to play video: 'Banff family heirlooms destroyed in out of control fire'
Banff family heirlooms destroyed in out of control fire
Parks Canada and members of Banff Fire Department are assessing the damage left when a prescribed burn went out of control on the outskirts of the townsite. Global's Jayme Doll reports – May 4, 2023

A burned and blackened forest smolders on the shoulders of Banff’s townsite, as ribbons of light smoke wrap around scorched trees now on the verge of toppling onto the side of the road.

Fire crews put out hotspots and the unmistakable rattle of chainsaws echoed nearby. Overhead, helicopters long lining buckets of water take turn dousing trouble areas.

On Wednesday a prescribed burn project in Banff National Park got out of control and jumped the road, threatening a cemetery, horse corrals an event tent and a resort hotel.  Hundreds of people were evacuated including an estimated 10 horses.

“That wind was not forecasted yesterday, nor was the change in wind direction for us. We were prepared for unexpected changes, but it was a little faster than anticipated,” said Parks Canada incident commander Jane Park.

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Evacuees were allowed back in at around 9 p.m. Wednesday night, the smell of smoke still heavy in the air.

Three tack sheds belonging to longtime Banff residents went up in flames along with everything inside.

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Precious heirloom saddles and chaps belonging to the Brewster family are among the items lost.  Alison Brewster said it was too raw to comment and they are all very sad about what has happened.

Click to play video: 'Banff prescribed burn being held for now'
Banff prescribed burn being held for now

Banff Fire Department along with crews from Canmore all assisted in fighting the fire. Crews from Banff were already there to help out with the prescribed burn along with a group of fire fighters in town for an intensive fire training program.

Banff’s Fire Chief Silvio Adamo said Mountainview Cemetery suffered damage to some trees and a stone wall. Adamo said the town greatly appreciates the important work done by Parks Canada to mitigate fire threat.

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“Once we got on scene, we contained the fire and stopped the spread that had the potential to destroy other structure in that area. We are glad it didn’t go beyond those three sheds,” said Adamo.

Prescribed burns are done to clear the fuel accumulated in old growth forests and prevent larger wildfires from happening.

“We have to do our prescribed fires, and meet our ecological objectives and objectives to protect the community as well,” said Park.

But is has been a bit of wake up call for some Banff residents, who said they were shaken at how quick the common mitigation work got out of control.

“We live in a national park,” said Alana Pettigrew, president of Banff Light Horse Association. “We know that we are at risk for a variety of different things.

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“I don’t think anyone could fathom that this in fact could happen, so it brings it to the forefront and we all have awareness.”

The organization is still assessing the full extent of damages.

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