Parks Canada and Alberta Wildfire have joined forces in keeping at bay a fast-growing wildfire that, since Thursday, has threatened to burst over the continental divide and into Waterton Lakes National Park.
Parks Canada told people earlier in the week they should be ready to leave on short notice as the fire burned mostly in British Columbia on Waterton’s western boundary.
“Any non-essential personnel have left”.
Stoesser said firefighters from Calgary, Lethbridge and other nearby communities are positioned around the town, including at the historic Prince of Wales Hotel that overlooks the community from a point in Waterton Lake.
As an approaching cold front triggered strong winds across southern Alberta, Parks Canada initiated a mandatory evacuation Friday afternoon – ordering out everybody except for emergency workers.
About 185 personnel are still in the park – consisting of Parks Canada staff, RCMP, fire crews and a skeleton staff providing them food and lodging at the Bayshore Inn. But on Friday the flames covering nearly 80 square kilometres advanced into the park.
“It’s been fantastic watching the municipal district and the town all come together”, said Chris Ney, senior pastor of the Vertical Church, site of the evacuation centre. “The fire is approxiamately 20 kilometres 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 it moved eight kilometres in the last week”.
“The fire remains nearly entirely on the west side of the continental divide save for a small spot fire approximately one half hectare in size that Parks Canada is holding”, said Ifan Thomas, Parks Canada Field Officer.
Those who have evacuated are still being asked to register themselves at Vertical Church in Pincher Creek so that authorities can maintain contact.
He said helicopters had been dropping buckets of water on it until the winds picked up, and he said their operations will resume once the winds die down.
After a week of little more than suffocating smoke and bleak news of the fire, he said coming to town has been an incredible boost to everybody’s spirits.
“Unprecedented dry conditions and weather have led to fire behaviour that many of us have not seen in our careers”.
Crews are also protecting two backcountry warden cabins, three day-use areas, some campgrounds, a church camp and a ski shelter.