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Kootenay National Park wildfire 'being held'

“There continues to be no threat to public safety, infrastructure or roads at this time.”
The lightning-sparked wildfire at Mitchell Ridge in Kootenay National Park. PARKS CANADA PHOTO

KOOTENAY NATIONAL PARK – The lightning-sparked wildfire in Kootenay National Park is now classified as “being held” at 228 hectares inside and outside the park.

Parks Canada fire officials said there were 29 Parks Canada firefighters working the Mitchell Ridge blaze and 28 B.C. Wildfire Service crew members on the provincial portion of the fire that got out of control last week and reached the eastern boundary during unseasonably dry, warm and windy conditions.

Steady rain over a couple of days last week and cooler temperatures slowed down the spread of the fire and gave firefighters some relief.

“We are classifying it as being held,” said Justine Renkema, fire communications officer for Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay field unit.

“There continues to be no threat to public safety, infrastructure or roads at this time.”

Two helicopters were supporting ground crews by dumping water on the blaze, as crews continued to work to fully put out the fire, which started on May 17 approximately two kilometres east of the Kootenay Valley viewpoint and seven kilometres north of Nipika Mountain Resort.

Hoses were laid along the southern perimeter of the fire to prevent it from spreading further and firefighters continued to widen the wet line along the south and west flanks.

“Patrol continues on the northern perimeter where terrain is particularly rough,” said Renkema.

Kootenay National Park is prone to lightning-sparked fires, and sections of the park are known as "Lightning Alley."

According to Parks Canada's fire management plan, Kootenay National Park typically experiences the highest number of lightning-caused wildfires of all three parks – Banff, Yoho and Kootenay – with 71 per cent of all fires occurring from lighting accounting for 90 per ercent of the total area burned.

In July 2017, lightning started the Verdant Creek fire in Kootenay, which ended up burning about 18,000 hectares over two months.

Completely burning down a backcountry warden cabin as 70 km/h winds whipped up, the wildfire led to the evacuation of several facilities, including Sunshine Village in neighbouring Banff National Park.

At the height of that fire, there were nine helicopters working with two additional machines available for initial attack, and approximately 100 personnel in what was one of the worst fire seasons on record for B.C.

Twenty years ago, in summer 2003, the Tokumm-Verendrye fire began as two separate lightning-sparked fires before they merged into one, burning 12.6 per cent of Kootenay National Park.

Also dubbed the “Holy Shit Fire”, the Tokumm-Verendrye fire doubled in size on one August day in a matter of hours and headed for the Bow Valley. However, a two-kilometre-wide emergency fire guard was bulldozed and the fire never spread beyond the pass.

Over the past 20 years, fire has burned almost 25 per cent of Kootenay National Park.

“Including the 2003 fire, 24 per cent of the park has burned since 2003,” said Renkema.

“That’s an estimated 33,809 hectares within the park – a combination of both prescribed fire and wildfire.”