A wildfire burning near the northwest boundary of Waterton Lakes National Park has grown and Parks Canada crews are working to contain it and keep it from spreading to the townsite.

The Kenow wildfire crossed over into Alberta on Friday and officials made the decision to evacuate the park as a precaution after a change in weather conditions increased the potential danger.

The wildfire is currently estimated to cover about 8500 hectares and is largely burning in the Flathead valley in B.C.

“The fire remains almost 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. “Parks Canada and its partners have many resources dedicated to this fire and have installed extensive fire protection measures at critical infrastructure, park resources and in the townsite.”

“The reason that we have been paying very close attention to this over the last week is that it has the potential over two, row forested passes to move into Waterton Lakes National Park and the potential to threaten the townsite,” said Rick Kubian, Parks Canada Area Commander. “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.”

Crews from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and Parks Canada are fighting the fire and firefighters, equipment and other resources have been brought in from a number of other jurisdictions including Calgary.

“We now have five fire departments from around southern Alberta here helping us out. Calgary, Lethbridge, Willow Creek, Taber, Cardston,” said John Stoesser, Partnering, Engagement and Communications Officer, Waterton Lakes Field Unit Parks Canada.

“There’s approximately 185 personnel in this, seven helicopters, a large number of that personnel are actually structural fire protection and they’re on site in the Waterton townsite area ensuring that we’re able to protect the structures that comprise the Waterton townsite should the fire more further into the immediate vicinity,” said Kubian.

Kubian says windy conditions are forecast for the next week and that he expects the wildfire will spread from west to east.

“Our crews are prepared to deal with that eventuality and feel well positioned that we have the resources on hand to do our very best to manage the fire underneath those conditions,” he said.

A reception centre has been established in Pincher Creek at the Vertical Church for evacuees and cots and blankets are available for those who need them.

Evacuees can also check in by phone at 403-904-0021 or by emailing mdinfo@mdpinchercreek.ab.ca.

Tinder dry conditions in southern Alberta have prompted a fire weather advisory for the area and a number of fire bans are also in effect.

“It’s been a fairly exceptional fire season,” said Kubian. “Unprecedented dry conditions and weather has led to fire behavior that many of us have not seen in our careers and has created situations that are very unique to this year.”

A thick blanket of smoke is covering the area and visibility and air quality is also being affected.

Environment Canada is monitoring the air quality in southern Alberta and has dispatched mobile air quality units to Cardston and Pincher Creek.

The air quality index for the area is currently rated as high risk and people are being advised to avoid outdoor activity and monitor symptoms of smoke inhalation.

Fish and Wildlife officers are patrolling areas of the forest closure and entrance to the park is being limited to essential personnel and emergency vehicles only.

“Our role at this point is making sure that the townsite remains secure. We’ve got officers stationed here at the entrance to the park making sure that nobody who is unauthorized gains entry. This essentially is to make sure that people stay safe as well as making sure that nobody goes in there with ill-will and doing anything to the businesses or the residences here in the townsite,” said RCMP Corporal Curtis Peters, southern Alberta communications officer.

For the latest updates on the Kenow fire and how it is affecting Waterton Lakes National Park wildfire, click HERE.

For more information call the Parks Canada Information Line at 403-859-5109 or click HERE.