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Saturday, September 9, 2017

September 9 evening update regarding southwestern Alberta fire situation

Wildfire Alberta Fire Weather Index for September 9, 2017

CLICK HERE FOR SEPTEMBER 11 UPDATES

The following includes highlights from a Parks Canada teleconference at 10:30 am this morning, a Government of Alberta press release issued this evening, and a Parks Canada press release also issued this evening, all related to the wildfire situation that has resulted in the evacuation of Waterton Lakes National Park.  Other sources are as noted. Officials involved in the teleconference were Waterton Lakes National Park Field Unit Superintendent Ifan Thomas, Waterton Lakes National Park Communication Officer Natalie Fay, and Parks Canada Area Coordinator Rick Kubian.

  • All residents and non-essential personnel have been safely evacuated and the townsite is secure. Admittance at the park gate is limited to essential personnel.
  • The Evacuation Order is still in effect and the park remains closed to all incoming traffic except emergency vehicles and authorized personnel. 
  • The Kenow fire is now approximately 8,500 hectares. Yesterday the fire moved 2 kilometres in British Columbia. It continues to move south along the Akamina Valley today. Parks Canada is holding the wildfire at the South Kootenay and Sage passes and managing a small spot fire (0.5 ha.) at Sage Pass. The fire is approximately 15 to 20 kilometres away from the Waterton townsite, as the crow flies, depending on the measuring point. This morning three helicopters continued bucketing water at South Kootenay Pass but had to shut down due to high winds in the afternoon. This work will continue as the wind permits.
  • Infrastructure and facility protection within the townsite is ongoing. Crews installed an extensive high volume pump and sprinkler system around the perimetre of town. Fire protection sprinklers are set up on buildings. Structural fire crews from five municipalities (Calgary, Lethbridge, Coaldale, Taber and Willowcreek) and Parks Canada crews are prepared to extinguish spot fires with water and fire retardant foam in town, at the Prince of Wales hotel and at infrastructure critical to the firefighting effort if necessary. There are approximately 185 personnel, seven helicopters and many fire engines, water tenders and facility protection resources dedicated to this incident. 
  • Parks Canada and the Province of Alberta are working towards a Unified Command. This approach will allow for combined objectives, resources and information, and improve safety.
  • Responding municipalities/agencies include Alberta Wildfire, Alberta Emergency Management Agency, Pincher Creek Emergency Services, Cardston County Emergency Services, RCMP, British Columbia Wildfire Service, Calgary Fire Department, City of Lethbridge, Town of Coaldale, Town of Taber, and the Municipal District of Willow Creek.
  • Eighty-seven evacuees have registered with the MD of Pincher Creek.
  • Waterton-area evacuees are encouraged to register, even if they do not need assistance, to allow authorities to contact them with any new information: By phone at 403-904-0021 or by email at mdinfo@mdpinchercreek.ab.ca (provide name, number of people and phone number).
  • As the reception centre in Pincher Creek currently has no overnight occupants, evacuees needing accommodation or registration are asked to call 403-904-0021.
  • The fire hazard across much of southern Alberta continues to be extreme.
  • Smoke has become very intense in the Waterton Lakes park area and visibility is low. Air-quality advisories remain in place.
  • "Busy weekend as Pincher fire crews work on structure assessments and protection in the West Castle Valley - Pincher Creek Emergency Services on Twitter" (@DeputyChiefPCES).  According to PCES Chief Dave Cox earlier today, "We've got our structure protection in place, we've got equipment actually in place during the day, instead of having to respond.  So, if this triggers the same as for coming out the front canyons, then we've got resources in place to actually deal with the fire, if it's coming that way."
  • "Our normal fire operations still have to be maintained.  It's not just this one event we have to be able to respond to, we have got to deal with our whole area." - PCES Chief Dave Cox
  • "It is important to note that the fire remains almost entirely on the west side of the continental divide, save for a small fire, approximately 1/2 hectare in size that Parks Canada is holding." - Field Unit Superintendent Ifan Thomas
  • "It's been a fairly exceptional fire season, as many of you are aware. Unprecedented drying conditions, and weather has lead to fire behaviour that many of us have not seen in our careers, and has created situations that are unique to this year." - Parks Canada Area Coordinator Rick Kubian
  • An estimated 8500 hectares had burned by this morning."It has the potential over two low forested passes to move into Waterton Lakes National Park, and the potential to threaten the townsite. The fire is approximately 20 kilometers away from the townsite, at this time, as the crow flies, and in the last week took over one evening an eight kilometer run. So that's to say that it moved eight kilometres overnight, in the last week."- Parks Canada Area Coordinator Rick Kubian
  • The response includes 185 personnel, and 7 helicopters. According to Rick Kubian "A large number of that personnel are actually structural fire protection, and they're onsite in the Waterton townsite area ensuring that we're able to protect the structures that comprise the Waterton townsite, should the fire move into the immediate vicinity of the townsite."  There are currently more than 700 firefighters, 90 helicopters and 55 pieces of heavy equipment as well as 16 air tankers available to respond to wildfires across Alberta.
  • An Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) mobile emergency vehicle is now located in Waterton and serving as an operations centre.
  • In response to a request from the Cardston County Fire Department (responds to structural fires in Waterton Lake National Park), an ambulance medical unit has been dispatched to Waterton.
  • Structural fire protection and resources are now in place in the Town of Waterton.
  • Responders are using a direct attack on the fire itself and in some cases are using indirect attacks as a proactive tactic.  According to Rick Kubian, "They will be using direct attack, which means we will be actioning the fire immediately, to the fire, so up to the fire's edge, and in some cases indirect attack, which means that at times we may be burning out some fuel so removing fuels in locations, using fire in a way that would reduce the probability of the fire spreading toward the Waterton townsite." 
  • The types of fire behaviour we are seeing this year are on the extreme end, and at times it limits the number of tools you have in the toolbox just because the fire behaviour is such that some of the tools we would normally use may not be effective. Then, the other thing I'll mention is we are moving into unified command with province of Alberta and that simply means that we will be working with them on a single incident, so we will ensure we have one set of objectives, and that we are prepared to completely lockstep with them on this event." - Parks Canada Area Coordinator Rick Kubian
  • Forecasted winds are predicted to spread the winds from the west to the east. According to Rick Kubian "Our crews are expected to deal with that eventuality, and feel well positioned that we have well resources on hand to do our very best to manage the fire underneath those conditions." 
  • 2015 was the last time there was an evacuation alert for the town of Waterton, as there was a fire in Glacier National Park. Previous to that there was an incident in 1998.
  • Assistance from the general public are not needed at this time, According to Ifan Thomas "There is no requirement for any assistance, we are fully resourced and have everything we need to manage this incident."
  • "We use the same tools, tactics, and strategies that other fire management agencies use, in terms of managing wildfire, one of the key differences is though, most of our jurisdiction is relatively remote wilderness area." Some of the heavy equipment are not able to be utilized. "We are managing fire in a slightly different milieu, in that we are often in remote wilderness areas." - Rick Kubian
  • Akamina Pass is the primary area of concern today. There are concerns the fire could spread from Flathead Valley through the pass into the Waterton Park and the townsite. According to Rick Kubian "We have been taking the actions we have been able to and probably most importantly, have been planning and understanding how we will action fire, should it reach Akamina Pass. And we'll do as much as we can to reduce the probability of that fire moving down through Akamina Pass to the Waterton Lakes townsite area.  Given the current forecast, and the force fuel conditions there, it is a possibility that the fire could move through Akamina Pass as a high intensity wildfire."

The following highways are closed to the public, with the exception of permit holders, due to the current wildfire situation:
  • Highway 5, from the Town of Waterton to Highway 6
  • Highway 532, west of Highway 22
  • Highway 520, east of Highway 22 for approximately 12 km
  • Highway 774, from Highway 507 to Castle Provincial Park
  • For up-to-date travel information across Alberta, please check 511 Alberta and “know before you go.”

  • Information about the air quality in many areas of Alberta is updated hourly on the Alberta Environment Air Quality site.
  • For hourly air-quality readings and daily forecasts, download the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) Canada app.
  • Be aware of air conditions and take precautions against potential health concerns associated with smoky air. Precautions are outlined at www.ahs.ca/air.
  • The Government of Alberta continues to work with local and federal officials.

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