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'Finicky' transition to generators could mean continuous outages in Jasper: ATCO

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The challenge of reconnecting residents in Jasper National Park to power after a wildfire destroyed some of town's transmission infrastructure is proving "increasingly evident," the mayor says.

Thursday marked the third day ATCO was trying to deliver on a promise of bringing the town of about 5,000 people onto generators.

For a brief period in the morning, two thirds of the town was re-energized. Then power was lost again.

"The complexity of integrating generator power into a utility system to a community of this size and scale is extremely challenging," commented ATCO regional manager Amanda Mattern Thursday morning.

She called the system "finicky" in terms of receiving additional segments of load.

"The biggest challenge we're seeing… is bringing in that equipment from various vendors and getting all those controls to communicate with each other without tripping the system. Yes, that involves bringing on additional load, that involves fuelling up the generation, and all of that takes a lot of coordination and that's where we've been seeing the interruptions."

Mayor Richard Ireland described the situation as "precarious."

Some residents, as of noon on Thursday, had been without power for 80 hours.

Without reliable power from ATCO, the town was resorting to using its own back-up generators to operate its wastewater treatment plant.

"Jasper residents and businesses have demonstrated remarkable adaptability, resilience, good will, kindness, and calmness in the face of the present calamity," Ireland said. "But even as parts of the town become re-energized, those admirable characteristics must continue.

"We are far from over this emergency."

Mattern said more outages were likely given the unreliability of generators.

FIRE ACTIVITY EXPECTED TO PICK UP

As temperatures and wind increase, so, too, does the threat of Chetamon Wildfire.

Wind made direct fire suppression too dangerous for firefighters on the ground and in the air on Wednesday. According to Environment Canada data, the town stayed in the low 20s C throughout the afternoon while wind speeds went from 5 km/h in the morning to 13 km/h by 1 p.m.

The conditions resulted in an increase in fire activity on the north, south and middle portions of the blaze, which is about 15 kilometres from the Jasper townsite.

But overnight, its size held at an estimated 5,500 hectares, Parks Canada said.

During the higher winds on Wednesday, firefighters worked on indirect attack methods on the southern and eastern fronts to protect the CN rail corridor and more parts of ATCO's power line.

As well, provincial air tankers dropped retardant on Wednesday – the first opportunity officials said it had been safe to do so.

Fire officials expect the wildfire to grow in the coming days without any precipitation.

"If the wildfire area does not receive significant rain, further damage to the power supply infrastructure remains a possibility, as is a potential wildfire threat to the community," Ireland noted.

However, no communities were considered at risk on Thursday.

So far, ATCO has been able to confirm 18 power poles have been burned down. The company was going to attempt to finish its assessment of the transmission line on Thursday.

All frontcountry campgrounds in Jasper National Park are closed and the park has stopped issuing new backcountry permits.

Both Ireland and park officials are discouraging people from visiting, given the town's lack of power and struggle to keep critical infrastructure and businesses operating.