Crews working to gain upper hand on growing wildfire in Jasper
Julia Parrish, CTV Edmonton
Published Friday, July 10, 2015 12:31PM MDT
Last Updated Friday, July 10, 2015 7:04PM MDT
Officials with Parks Canada said crews were working to get an upper hand on a growing wildfire burning in Jasper National Park, near the townsite.
The wildfire was first reported to officials at 3:30 p.m. Thursday – and was about 15 kilometres south of the Jasper townsite.
According to Parks Canada, the fire was heading through the Maligne Lake Valley, away from the town.
Officials shut down Maligne Lake Road as a result, and hikers and visitors to the area were evacuated.
In total, officials said 30 people were evacuated on the ground, and 52 were flown out by helicopter and taken to Jasper by bus.
On Thursday, a tanker and two helicopters were working to douse the flames, but it was too dangerous for firefighters to access the fire on the ground.
“We were able to call on our colleagues in Alberta, and we used one of their tankers, but given what we have right now and the fire behaviour associated with the hot dry conditions,” Fire specialist David Smith said. “Even their largest tankers were unable to control or put any stop on the fire.”
Officials said their first priority was to ensure the safety of people in the national park.
“Our primary focus right now is on public safety and we are in the process of evacuating people as a precautionary measure out of the Maligne Valley only,” Park superintendent Greg Fenton said. “The rest of the park remains open and there is still lots to see an do and there will be for quite some time in Jasper.”
An evacuation centre was set up in the town to provide support for evacuees. The townsite, and the Maligne Lake tourist areas are not at immediate risk, but officials are keeping an eye on movements of the fire.
“We are absolutely keeping a very close eye on weather,” Kim Weir with Jasper National Park said.
“Visitor safety, public safety and safety of facilities is always going to be our number one priority.”
A second team is expected to join in the fire fight Friday, including more support from the air.
On Thursday, the fire was believed to be 250 hectares in size, later Friday, it was estimated to be about 5,000 hectares in size.
“That’s fairly significant growth in one day, but given the temperatures and the forest conditions, it’s not surprising,” Weir said.
It’s believed lightning caused the blaze – and the fire smouldered underground for some time before hot and dry conditions allowed it to grow.
A fire ban has been issued for all of Jasper National Park.
With files from Bill Fortier