Skip to content

Getting wildfire ready in the Bow Valley

Town of Banff is hosting a wildfire forum at the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre on Tuesday, May 7.

BANFF – While the recent snow dump across the Bow Valley makes it difficult to think ahead to summer, the municipalities of Banff and Canmore are trying to elevate the conversation about wildfire and emergency preparedness.

Hot on the heels of an unprecedented fire season in 2023 and in preparation for what is expected to be another above-average wildfire season in Alberta and across the country, the Town of Banff is hosting a wildfire forum at the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre on Tuesday, May 7.

Fire officials say the forum is a place to learn about Banff's wildfire and evacuation response plans, FireSmart incentives for property owners, and what residents and businesses need to do to get ready for wildfire.

“We really want our residents to be educated about the risk, but also about what they can do to mitigate the impact,” said Banff’s deputy fire chief Keri Martens.

“The more information you can get on something, the better you start to feel about it, especially when it’s something that you know is anxiety-inducing like this.”

The wildfire forum, which runs from 3 to 8 p.m. at the Fenlands, is a three-part event that includes an open house of information booths, outdoor demonstrations and an evening speaker series kicking off at 6 p.m.

Residents can watch demonstrations of the “Fire Boss” sprinklers that firefighters deploy at town perimeters and for protection of buildings, and demonstrations of other wildland equipment and fire response vehicles.

Information will also be available about the wildfire risk in Banff, the municipality's prevention measures in and around town, and the changing face of wildfires on the landscape under climate change impacts.

In addition, residents can learn about wildfire smoke and health, air quality monitoring, the Town’s collaboration with Parks Canada on prevention, preparedness, and emergency response and the evacuation processes in Banff.

Existing municipal financial supports for homeowners, including the rooftop replacement, tree replacement and rooftop sprinkler programs, will be promoted to try to get more people to take advantage of the rebates.

Martens said residents can also register for free a FireSmart home assessment, which she said covers everything from structures to landscaping to make the property more wildfire-ready.

“We’re not saying that you can’t have a few nice flowers or some plants, but it’s really about getting rid of that highly flammable, really volatile material that stacks up close to people’s homes,” she said.

“Those are things that homeowners really have the most control over, and the most impact on.”

Martens said the Town of Banff and Parks Canada have done a lot of work on vegetation management and fuel mitigation in and around the townsite.

“We really need our residents to do their part as well,” she said.

“Everyone plays a role in mitigating the impacts of wildfire.”

Banff’s 2023 community social assessment indicated residents had anxiety over climate change, the threat of a wildfire and fear of not being able to evacuate, especially those in the Middle Springs area on the south side of the Bow River.

While evacuation guides were hand-delivered to every residential dwelling unit a few years ago, there is still uncertainty and residents called for a clear plan, easily accessible to all, for town-wide emergency evacuation procedures.

Martens hopes the upcoming May 7 wildfire forum will help with that.

“We’re here to help our residents learn and be educated and hopefully we can alleviate some of the stress that I think people are feeling right now,” she said.

In Canmore, conversations are happening in the community regarding wildfires and drought, and the feeling of anxiety about the summer hazard ahead.

During Mayor Sean Krausert’s virtual Town Hall on Tuesday, May 14, at 6:30 p.m., he will talk about the Town of Canmore’s preparation for emergencies and answer any questions from residents on the subject.

“Canmore is a resilient community that is no stranger to facing hazards. Wildfires, flooding from the mountainous steep creeks, and flooding from the Bow River has been experienced in the region throughout history,” said Krausert.

“I know the threat of wildfire is on many people’s minds as we head into the summer and I want to let you know  that the Town of Canmore takes this threat  – and the threat of all hazards – seriously.”

The 2024 fire season in Alberta is already off to a blazing start, with 43 active wildfires burning as of May 1, including carryover fires.

Wildfires have already prompted a handful of communities to temporarily evacuate and put hundreds more residents on warning to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.

So far this year, more than 200 fires have been reported in Alberta, including a small one near Exshaw and another east of Mînî Thnî (Morley), compared to 135 at this time last year.

Six of these were in the Calgary Forest Area (CFA), which includes Kananaskis Country and Bow Valley outside of Banff National Park.

With the exception of the Calgary forest protection zone, all outdoor fires are now banned on public lands, including backcountry and random camping areas.

Last year, the wildfire season across Canada was the all-time worst on record, burning more than 18 million hectares, which is two-and-a-half times the previous record set in 1995 and more than six times the average over the past 10 years.

In Alberta alone, the devastating wildfire season saw an unprecedented 2.2 million hectares burned between March 1 and Oct. 31. The province’s five-year average before 2023 was 226,000 hectares of burned land.

Last month, the federal government released its forecast and early modelling of weather trends for 2024, with the metrics indicating that Canada may be facing another catastrophic fire season like last year.

Climate change is causing extreme temperatures at a greater frequency than in the past, increasing the severity of heat waves and contributing to dry conditions, and wildfires, as well as heavy precipitation risks.

In partnership with Canmore Fire-Rescue and Parks Canada, the Banff Fire Department last week conducted an exercise to test one of its wildfire response plans in the Valleyview neighbourhood on the south side of the Bow River.

Residents got to see live demonstrations of how firefighters would put out an advancing wildfire using high-powered sprinkler systems and got a first-hand view of simulated firetruck operations throughout the event.

“It allowed the fire department to test one of our plans, to see if what works on paper works in practice,” said Martens.

“The fire department has multiple plans in place for a wildfire response and so, in this case, it included establishing a wet line or establishing a perimeter line adjacent to that neighbourhood.”

Martens said the joint exercise also provided training for firefighters and was a chance to work with other agencies and partners.

She said it also allowed crews to work with residents in that neighbourhood.

“I think it maybe gave them a little bit of peace of mind, that there is a plan and this is what it looks like,” she said.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks