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Kenow wildfire wipes out visitor centre in Waterton Lakes National Park
Published Tuesday, September 12, 2017 5:50AM MDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 12, 2017 7:46PM MDT
The Kenow wildfire has destroyed buildings in Waterton Lakes National Park and a mandatory evacuation order has been issued for several communities as the fire continues to push its way further into the area.
Officials say high winds and dry conditions fueled the fire overnight, prompting officials to issue mandatory evacuation orders for hundreds of residents.
The following areas are under mandatory evacuation:
- All areas between Waterton Park and Range Road 281 (Highway 800) from the U.S Border North to Township Road 40.
- The Blood Tribe has declared a mandatory evacuation order for Zone 1 of the Blood Reserve including the Fish Creek, St. Paul apartments north to Russell, Many Fingers homes due to the danger of the Waterton wildfire. Residence in Zone 3 (north of Russell, Many Fingers residences extending to Lavern and little Chicago area) should prepare to evacuate on short notice.
- Residents South Highway 505 to Waterton Park and Castle Mountain Resort. A State of Local Emergency has been issued for the entire MD.
A State of Emergency has also been declared for Cardston County, the Blood Tribe and Municipal District of Pincher Creek.
"We are always keeping our eyes open of course, obviously, we have staff out there monitoring the fire, out there currently, and evaluating what the potential is and then we're planning to hit it with all we've got here this morning," said Murray Millward, chief administrative officer of Cardston County. "At this point in time, I can't see us seeing any more evacuations."
Officials say the Kenow fire moved down the Cameron Valley and along the Akamina Parkway on Monday evening and then started moving through the grasslands along the park’s entrance road.
The fire grew over 50 percent overnight and now covers about 20,000 hectares.
Fire crews worked through the night to protect infrastructure and facilities in the townsite and Parks Canada says firefighting measures were effective and that the majority of the townsite seems to be intact.
Officials say high volume pumps, sprinkler systems and a coordinated firefighting effort ensured the perimeter around the townsite held.
The visitor’s centre at the park’s entrance road was burned down but crews were able to keep the fire from spreading to the historic Prince of Wales Hotel.
Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna applauded the efforts of firefighters.
“It is an extraordinary situation, we are actively involved. Parks Canada folks, firefighters are working very hard on the ground. They’re working very closely with firefighters from Alberta,” said McKenna.
Members of Calgary’s fire department are among those helping out and Fire Chief Steve Dongworth says another crew is headed to the area.
“Their mission is to protect the Prince of Wales Hotel as well as a couple of other historical buildings in that area. We just deployed another crew this morning to replace the ones down there, I think we’re up to 51 people who’ve been deployed to date,” said Dongworth.
The fire moved out of the park overnight and into nearby communities. Fires in those areas are being managed by local fire departments and RCMP and Parks Canada personnel helped to get people out of the area.
Many back-country and front-country areas in the park are still being affected, including the Cameron Valley, Crandell Mountain area, Blakiston Valley and grasslands in the north.
Officials say the fire crossed into the Castle drainage area and is moving upslope. Crews are attacking the fire in this area from the air with airtankers and helicopters and ground crews are working to create containment lines to act as fire breaks.
The following highways are closed to the public:
- Highway 5 east of Waterton Lakes National Park to west of Cardston
- Highway 6 north of Waterton Lakes National Park to Twin Butte
The following highways within Waterton Lakes National Park are closed to the public:
- Highway 5
- Highway 6
- Chief Mountain border crossing
The following highways are closed to the public, with the exception of permit holders:
- 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
Officials say dry conditions will continue to influence the fire’s behaviour and additional resources have been called to assist.
An evacuation centre has been set up in Pincher Creek and about 500 people have registered so far.
Many had to leave their belongings and livestock behind and they are anxious for updates from the front lines.
"The evacuation came really quick this morning. The RCMP showed up and pretty much told us we had a half an hour to get out" said Ward Armstrong who was evacuated from Castle Mountain Resort.
The Chief Mountain border crossing is temporarily closed because of an evacuation order and people are being asked to re-route to Carway and Roosville, B.C. to enter Canada.
Cooler weather has been forecast for the area in the coming days and officials hope that will help slow down the fire and keep it from spreading.
Environment Canada has issued a special air quality statement for the area, including Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
For up-to-date information on the wildfire evacuations, click HERE.
Kenow Wildfire Growth
Kenow Wildfire Evacuation Area