Wildfires near Trans Canada Highway under investigation
By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative reporterHeadlines News Wildfires Emergency & disaster management Canada wildfire season Canada wildfires fire investigation
Aug. 17. 2023, Alberta – Two small fires sparked on the same day within a 20-kilometre stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway earlier this week are now extinguished thanks to quick response from fire crews.
The first fire, started by lit garbage, was reported around 3:20 p.m. Monday (Aug. 14) near Seebe and burned about 0.01 hectares. It was classified as under control shortly after it was discovered, preventing it from spreading under hot, dry conditions.
“We’re on high alert. It’s definitely dry, warm and there’s a bit of wind,” said Josee St-Onge, Alberta Wildfire information officer. “Those are perfect conditions for wildfires to start and spread. We’re hoping that Albertans will be very careful, and ourselves, we’ll be watching closely for any new starts.”
The fire was located in a loop off Bow Valley Park Street, near the Canadian Rockies Outdoor Learning Centre and southwest of Bow Valley Campground. Alberta Wildfire was the sole response and there was no risk to public safety or nearby structures at the time, said St-Onge. It was extinguished the next day (Aug.15).
“Firefighters were able to get to it very quickly, so that’s usually the key in controlling a wildfire is to be able to respond to it quickly and keep it at a very small size, and that luckily was the case here,” she said.
About 20 kilometres east, another wildfire was reported around the same time, southwest of Mini Thni, off the Trans-Canada Highway on Iyarhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation. The size of that fire reached 0.03 hectares by 5:30 p.m. and was also extinguished by 10:30 a.m the next day.
“This was a small grass fire, so we were able to get crews to respond immediately,” said St-Onge. “We responded with one helicopter and one crew of firefighters and they were able to bring it under control the same day.”
Exshaw Fire-Rescue responded to the mutual aid call with Nakoda Emergency Services. Exshaw fire chief Andrew Box said there was no risk to public safety or structures nearby.
Both fires, which are in or near the Calgary Forest Area (CFA), are under investigation. The blaze south of Seebe was in a small area outside the boundaries of the CFA but surrounded by it.
The northern portion of the CFA includes Canmore, Kananaskis Country and the MD of Bighorn. As of Aug. 14, the average fire danger across the CFA was rated extreme, according to Alberta Wildfire.
“The forecast is calling for temperatures in the low to mid-thirties with low humidity for the next several days with no anticipated precipitation,” reads the Alberta Wildfire update. “These conditions will continue to increase the wildfire danger.”
Much of southern Alberta, including the Bow Valley, is under a heat warning. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada forecasts, daytime highs this week will reach between 30 to 35 degrees Celsius combined with overnight lows in the mid teens until temperatures are expected to cool on Friday (Aug 18).
St-Onge said a drying trend over the past week has driven up fire danger, which is more extreme in the southern portion of the CFA, where a fire ban is currently in place. North of Highway 541, a fire advisory exists for the rest of the region.
“That reflects a little bit of the conditions that we see on the ground,” said St-Onge. “But overall, conditions are very dry and a fire can start very easily and spread very quickly, so it’s very important for people to be careful, follow fire bans that are in place, and even if there is no fire ban and they are allowed to have a campfire, to make sure it’s a safe one by keeping it small, always watching it and making sure to fully extinguish it when they’re done.”
According to Environment Canada forecasts, temperatures throughout the Bow Valley and into Kootenay and Yoho national parks are expected to lower into the mid-teens by Friday. The forecast is also calling for rain beginning as early as overnight Thursday and lasting into next week.
“If we can get through these next couple hot days, the cooler temperatures and rain will assist us in keeping a handle on things,” said Box.
The CFA has responded to 64 wildfires this season, burning a total of about 6.11 hectares in the region.
In Alberta, there are 85 active wildfires. So far this year, there have been 973 wildfires in the province.
Box said with much of the province’s resources focused on the majority of active fires in northern Alberta, there is additional pressure on mutual aid partners in the south such as Exshaw-Fire Rescue.
“We just encourage everybody to obviously enjoy the nice weather, but do it in a manner that’s safe and not going to cause any loss or fire concerns,” he said.
While wildfire has been minimal in the CFA this season, St-Onge said risk typically climbs as the summer stretches on, making it all the more important people continue doing their part to prevent human-caused wildfires.
In Banff National Park, the fire rating was considered high as of Aug. 14. Meanwhile, Kootenay and Yoho national parks are both under a fire ban due to elevated fire risk.
–Rocky Mountain Outlook
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