Crews battle Kootenay fire
Areas of Kootenay National Park and Assiniboine Provincial Park are closed as crews continue to battle a growing wildfire.
The fire – believed to have started a week ago on Octopus Mountain in Kootenay following a thunderstorm – went from 42 hectares on Sunday (Aug. 12) to more than 50 hectares by Monday (Aug. 13).
Fire experts were predicting the lightning-sparked fire could pick up Tuesday, with moderate to strong gusty winds in the forecast, and there was also a possibility of more fires with more thunderstorms called for the region.
“The Octopus fire took some light precipitation Tuesday before a cold front went through,” said Julia Millen, fire communications officer for Kootenay National Park. “Smoke settled into the valley bottom and there is now a high pressure area there, but we don’t expect substantial changes with the fire.”
The fire, which was not reported until Sunday (Aug. 12), burned upslope along the Lachine Creek drainage in Kootenay National Park and crossed into Assiniboine Provincial Park on Monday.
Parks Canada, B.C. Parks and B.C. wildfire management branch officials are keeping a close eye on the blaze and were discussing a course of action on Tuesday.
Parks Canada has two helicopters and two initial attack crews in the park. They also have personnel from the Banff field unit available and a third helicopter on standby.
“They are currently generating a fire analysis and working out a strategy,” Millen said.
“They are planning for contingencies and it will all depend on the situation and how it develops. We have resources in place.”
The closure in Kootenay National Park applies to the Simpson River Trail, Simpson River and Lachine drainage basins to the national park boundary. There is a corresponding closure in effect in Assiniboine Provincial Park.
Millen said the lodge at Assiniboine and other facilities are facing no immediate risk.
“There is no imminent danger to any facilities,” she said. “The lodge is quite a ways away from the fire.”
The Octopus Mountain fire was one of seven lightning-sparked fires in Kootenay National Park last week. Four fires – three in the Daer Creek area and one near Crooks Meadow group camp – have been declared extinguished.
Two lightning-sparked fires are still burning on Sinclair Mountain, though they are very small at about one to two hectares in size.
“There’s ongoing action with fire management, but they’re both small,” Millen said.
An eighth fire in Kootenay National Park was human-caused, after someone carelessly tossed a cigarette butt out of car window on Highway 93 South just north of Vermilion Crossing.
“The human-caused fire was a very small one, probably about five-by-five metres, and it was put out quite quickly,” Millen said.
“But it’s a good reminder for people to dispose of their cigarettes in the proper receptacles, especially at this time of the year when we’re in the dry season.”
Millen said the goal has been to extinguish the fires.
She said the prescriptions – such as weather, relative humidity, wind speed, forecasts, fuel and forest conditions – are not right to allow fire crews to manage the fires for ecological reasons.
“The goals with all of these, at this point in time, is suppression. We are not considering managing them. In the fall it might be a different story, but right now the days are long and hot,” she said. “They’d have to be in prescription before we’d even consider managing them to get ecological goals.”
The southern end of Kootenay National Park is known as Lightning Alley, due to the frequent thunderstorms that ignite wildfires in the area every summer.
A cold front was expected to come through Tuesday afternoon, but Millen said a high-pressure ridge was expected to rebuild and see a return to warmer weather.
“It’s expected we could get some lightning and so there’s the potential for new wildfires to start,” she said.
Any fires should be reported to Banff dispatch at 403-762-1470.
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