WATERTON — Fire crews halted the spread of a wildfire into the Waterton Lakes National Park townsite on Tuesday, but they were not able to save the visitor’s centre or stop the flames from spreading into grasslands outside the southwestern Alberta park.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said 500 people were ordered out of their homes in the Waterton townsite and in parts of nearby Cardston County, the Municipality of Pincher Creek and a First Nations community southwest of Lethbridge.
Remaining residents in Cardston, Pincher Creek and on the Blood reserve were warned they may have to leave on short notice. All three communities declared states of local emergency.
Some 135 firefighters, 14 helicopters and nine air tankers were battling the blaze in the park and more resources were on standby, Notley said.
“We’re advised that efforts to fight the eastern border of the fire are likely to be more successful today during the day with the use of tanker and helicopter resources,” she said.
“That work is underway. The wind dynamics will determine whether the eastern border can be held later today.”
An evacuation order was issued for Waterton on Friday when shifting winds threatened to carry a fire burning across the B.C. boundary eastward.
By late Monday afternoon, the fire was established in the park and was moving northeast along the Akamina Parkway, a road that connects a popular recreational area at Cameron Lake in the park’s southwest to the townsite.
Evacuation orders outside the park were issued late Monday and early Tuesday.
Forestry manager Bernie Schmitte said a grass fire ignited near the park’s gate on Monday night, probably due to a blowing ember from the wildfire.
Crews were unable to stop the flames from spreading along both sides of Highway 6 and the fire burned until early Tuesday.
“Strong gusty winds continue to be in the forecast for the region, which has proved to be a challenge to firefighting efforts and we’ll be monitoring that through the day,” he said.
Rain in the forecast for later this week should help, he added.
“Whenever we do get (precipitation), that is a good firefighting day and we will make progress on that.”
Blood officials ordered everyone out early Tuesday from homes and apartments in the extreme southwest corner of the reserve.