While crews have made progress, Waterton isn’t out of the woods yet.
Parks Canada and Alberta Wildfire have joined forces in keeping at bay a fast-growing wildfire that, since Thursday, has threatened to burst over the continental divide and into Waterton Lakes National Park.
Sparked by lightning on Aug. 30 in the Flathead basin near Keynow Mountain in southeast B.C., the now over 8,500-hectare fire has been largely kept out of Alberta by crews in helicopters dropping buckets of water — about all that can be done at this point owing to the remote terrain and deteriorating weather conditions, said area commander Rick Kubian.
“The forecast is for substantial winds into Sunday, and into next week,” he said.
“We are expecting there’s a good probability that the fire will spread from the west to the east, and our crews are prepared to deal with that eventuality.”
As an approaching cold front triggered strong winds across southern Alberta, Parks Canada initiated a mandatory evacuation Friday afternoon — ordering out everybody except for emergency workers.
About 185 personnel are still in the park — consisting of Parks Canada staff, RCMP, fire crews and a skeleton staff providing them food and lodging at the Bayshore Inn.
Late Friday, they were augmented by personnel from surrounding municipal fire departments, tasked with protecting structures and property within the townsite so wildfire crews can concentrate on preventing the wildfire’s spread.
Crews are employing both direct and indirect methods of attacking the blaze — not only dousing the flames directly with water, but also removing fuel in the fire’s path.
As of Saturday afternoon, the fire was about 20 kilometres due west of the Waterton townsite.
The best opportunity for the fire to travel into the townsite is through the Akamina Pass, and that’s where crews are staging their last stand.
“Given the current forecast and the forest fuel conditions, it is a possibility it could move through Akamina Pass as a high-intensity wildfire,” Kubian said.
“That’s exactly where our crews are focused today, doing their very best to reduce the potential of it moving through Akamina.”
So far, the only encroachment into the park has been a small spot fire, which crews managed to put out before it grew larger than a hectare.
“With the types of fire behaviour we’re seeing this year are on the extreme end,” Kubian said.
“At times, it limits the number of tools you have in your toolbox — some of the tools we would normally use may not be effective.”
Kubian, like many other veterans battling this blaze, say this fire is definitely one for the books.
“It’s been a fairly exceptional fire season,” Kubian said, referencing the exceptionally dry summer.
“Unprecedented dry conditions and weather have led to fire behaviour that many of us have not seen in our careers.”
On Twitter: @bryanpassifiume