Firefighters battling the Kenow wildfire are now preparing for the “high probability” the flames will enter the Cameron Valley in Waterton Lakes National Park today.
The valley is home to Cameron Lake, which is popular with tourists, who can rent kayaks and canoes at the visitor centre. Akamina Parkway, the road from the townsite to the lake, follows the valley. It provides access to several well-used trails.
“Intense fire behaviour is forecast for the next two or three days and there is a high probability the wildfire will round the corner at Akamina Pass and enter the Cameron Valley in Waterton Lakes National Park today,” said Parks Canada spokesperson John Stoesser in a news release earlier on Monday.
Parks Canada support personnel have been evacuated from the park in southwestern Alberta as high winds were expected to push the Kenow wildfire over the border from B.C., aided by tinder-dry conditions.
Wildland and structural fire crews remain Monday to continue preparations should flames threaten the townsite, about 270 kilometres south of Calgary.
The Kenow wildfire was expected to cross into Waterton Lakes National Park. (Ryan Peruniak/Parks Canada)
A mobilized command centre is being set up.
Area commander Rick Kubian said if conditions align against firefighters, the flames could reach the townsite quickly.
“Fire behaviour prediction is a real challenging science. There is a possibility that the fire could move that distance in one burn period. So it is possible in eight to 12 hours that the fire could spread into the Waterton townsite area,” he said.
Officials said Monday the fire had reached 11,400 hectares in size and had moved a further 4.5 kilometres along the Akamina Valley, about 20 kilometres from the Waterton townsite. It has moved 11.5 kilometres down this valley over the past three days.
Helicopters were also being used to drop water on a 50-hectare fire that flared up in the Tamarack Basin, within the park boundary. Stoesser said winds in the area had calmed and that was helping firefighting efforts.
Additional crews were tackling the fire on the north edge of the park, using air tankers and helicopters.
The fire was sparked 10 days ago after a lightning strike in the Flathead Valley just across the border from the national park, in B.C.
A Calgary fire truck in front of the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park on Saturday morning. The public was told to evacuate the area, including the townsite, on Friday afternoon due to the wildfire. (Supplied)
More than 185 firefighters, 14 aircraft and six firefighting vehicles have been deployed to the area, including personnel from the Calgary Fire Department.
There is rain in the forecast for the area, and Stoesser said any precipitation, as well as cooler temperatures, “would certainly help things out.”
Waterton has a year-round population of only 105, according to the 2016 census, but its rugged mountain peaks and emerald lakes draw hundreds if not thousands of visitors a day in the summer months.
An evacuation order was issued for Waterton Lakes National Park on Friday and an evacuation centre set up in Pincher Creek.
Evacuees can check in by phone at 403-904-0021 or by emailing email@example.com.
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