This is a letter that I had intended to write last fall, but procrastinated. However, recent events have made it very topical.
Last fall, a group of friends and I were driving toward the Black Prince Trailhead when we saw smoke above us on Kent Ridge. As most people are aware, there is no cell coverage throughout most of that area.
We immediately turned around and headed for the closest Peter Lougheed Provincial Park information centre. Although we did not expect it to still be open, we fully expected a public phone on site so we could call in the fire.
There was no such thing, to our shock. Now, what to do?There was no emergency information posted outside the building. You would have thought that was an essential to provide. The drive to the Kananaskis Emergency Services Centre would have taken time, giving the fire more time to spread as well as ruining our hiking day as our trail start would have been too late.
Two other cars had also stopped, puzzling over the same problem. By sheer chance and unusual fortune, one person was carrying a satellite phone, but had no number to call. As I keep the emergency number on my cell phone, I was able to give it to him, and help with a description of the location of the fire. The hikers in the other car were heading to Calgary and they were tasked with stopping at the emergency services centre as a back-up plan.
The response was very quick, with a helicopter arriving to assess the fire just as we started up our trail. At the end of our day, we were interested to watch the bucketing process still in progress.
Our fire season is getting longer, starting earlier and extending later. As we can see from the example of the many huge current fires, they can be catastrophic. The sooner a fire can be caught, the easier it is to contain.
It’s imperative that Alberta Parks prioritize placing a phone at the information centre, so any such emergency can be addressed by the public who are only too eager to assist. It could also have been a life-threatening emergency, and there was no recourse.
As we are all now paying for a pass to use the park, it is essential that funds be directed to park infrastructure, on which we all rely.