Wildfire at Jasper National Park being held at 5,000 hectares

Wildfire at Jasper National Park being held at 5,000 hectares

10 July 2015

published by http://globalnews.ca

Canada —  JASPER, Alta. — A wildfire burning in the Maligne Valley area near Jasper National Park’s Excelsior Creek held steady at 5,000 hectares in size Friday.

Three Parks Canada fire crews supported by five helicopters and heavy equipment were fighting the out-of-control wildfire Friday, which grew in size from 250 hectares to 5,000 hectares overnight. A sixth helicopter is expected to arrive Saturday.

Kim Weir, a Parks Canada spokesperson, said two 20-person fire crews are also on their way to Alberta from Ontario to help fight the fire. One crew is expected to arrive Saturday and the other on Sunday.

Weir said Friday night while the fire was still out of control, the good news is that it hadn’t grown through the day Friday. However, the fire’s growth is very much dependent on weather, so that could change at any moment, she added.

“It’s still hot and dry, we still have very dry forest conditions. We have had lightning through the day, we have more in the forecast so there is the potential for new fire starts,” said Weir. “We have the resources for that and we are prepared for that.”

The fire was reported around 3:30 p.m. Thursday. Officials say it was sparked by lightning.

As of 8 p.m. Friday, Parks Canada said there were no people or facilities threatened or at risk.

The wildfire is burning about 15 kilometres away from the Town of Jasper, but the wind was pushing the fire away from the townsite. While officials said there was no risk to the town, there was heavy smoke in the valley.

“There’s a fairly significant haze in the air,” said Weir.

“We had a really good inversion which meant fairly thick smoke this morning generally dissipates with the heat of the day, but this could take place over the weekend as well.”

Some visitors to part of Jasper National Park were forced to leave Thursday. Jasper National Park’s David Smith, the incident commander of the Excelsior Creek wildfire, said 82 visitors and staff members were forced to leave the Maligne Valley area Thursday, 52 of which were airlifted to safety by helicopter.

A total of 1,000 people were told to leave the area surrounding the wildfire, which mean the evacuation of several backcountry campgrounds, Weir said.

Dave Arsenault was one of the people airlifted from the area Friday. The outdoor enthusiast says he hiking with others on the Skyline Trail Thursday when he noticed a plume of smoke. Arsenault detailed his the entire ordeal on Twitter.

By Friday, everyone left the affected area and everyone was safe.

Smith said the town of Jasper is “100 per cent safe,” as there is a ridge between the town and the site of the fire. He said the fire will be fought by air.

“At this point we wouldn’t want to have anybody on the ground, it’s far too unsafe. There’s nowhere to land the helicopter to let people out,” said Smith.

Once the final precautionary sweep of the evacuation area in Maligne Valley is complete, staff will focus on facility protection.

“Our crews are going to be working on putting sprinkler systems around the facilities at Maligne Lake where the fire is growing towards, as well as the Maligne Canyon Tea House, the Maligne Canyon Hostel and a little backcountry area called Shangri-la,” said Weir.

While campgrounds remain open, a fire ban is in place for all Mountain National Parks. Maligne Road was closed down Thursday night.

As of Friday, there were 99 wildfires burning across the province and 29 were classified as out of control.

The park is about 300 kilometres west of Edmonton.

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