A large wildfire in the Spreading Creek area of Banff National Park is sending smoke and haze into the Upper Columbia Valley.
The 7,000-hectare fire is burning in a northern section of the park and adjoining lands outside the park, about 100 kilometres northeast of Golden and the smoky conditions it’s creating in the valley are expected to continue, given the forecast of continued hot and dry conditions in coming days.
Fire crews from Parks Canada and the Alberta provincial Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development are jointly managing the blaze.
“We’ve brought it to some fairly good containment lines during the past 48 hours, which we’re optimistic we can hold it to, but it’s still a really active wildfire at this time,” said Parks Canada incident commander for the fire, Rick Kubian.
The fire began on Thursday, July 3rd with a lightning strike outside the park, but close to the park boundary. Parks Canada completed a successful burnout operation to reduce forest fuels and stop the fire from spreading on Tuesday, July 8th. A dramatic wind shift on Friday, July 11th had Parks Canada evacuate the Saskatchewan River Crossing warden station and Saskatchewan Crossing resort. The wind shift also brought smoke into the Upper Columbia Valley, reducing visibility here. The winds shifted again later that day, reducing haze in the valley and allowing the resort and warden station to re-open.
“At this time we are using aerial ignition and water suppression to continue to manage forest fuels,” said Parks Canada Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay Field Unit communications officer Tania Peters. “The fire is expected to last throughout the summer, given the hot and dry conditions we currently have, probably about six to eight weeks.”
The fire means the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper will see some periodic closures between 2 p.m. and 7 a.m. as fire crews continue their work. Parks Canada will keep the highway open between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day.
Hot and dry conditions are also prevailing in B.C.’s Southeast Fire Centre (which includes the entire Kootenay region), leading the centre to prohibit all open fires in the area on Wednesday, July 2nd. Campfires less than one-metre by one-metre were still permitted as of the Valley Echo’s Monday press deadline.
“We haven’t hit our tipping point yet at which we would ban campfire,” said Southeast Fire Centre fire information officer Jordan Turner..
The weather forecast for the Columbia Valley has hot and dry conditions lasting until Friday, July 18th, when some rain is expected.
Turner advises that anybody having a campfire in the current conditions should have a half-litre jug of water and hand-tool nearby, to be able to quickly put out any blaze that might get slightly out of control.