Banff’s Sunshine Village clearing out guests as crews tackle nearby wildfire

CALGARY — A popular Rocky Mountain resort in Banff National Park was preparing Thursday to move out its guests to make way for crews fighting a wildfire raging in the nearby backcountry.

Sunshine Village, a ski hill that also offers summer hiking on the Alberta-B.C. boundary, was about 2 1/2 kilometres from the flames, but was not under threat.

However, about 150 people staying at Sunshine’s hotel were being told they would have to leave by midday Friday, said resort spokeswoman Kendra Scurfield.

Parks Canada incident commander Rick Kubian said the property was being set up as a staging area for firefighters because it provides better access to the Verdant Creek fire, which covered 25 to 30 square kilometres in Kootenay National Park and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in B.C.

That means the area will be busy with heavy equipment and helicopters. The air could also become more smoky.

“It’s a much closer location and we’ll be able to have our crews and equipment working from around the Sunshine area,” Kubian said. “It’s just much safer to have that happen without visitors and guests in the area.”

There were 75 people and six helicopters fighting the fire on Thursday as it spread into a remote and rugged area about 25 kilometres from the town of Banff.

Kubian said the fire itself was not posing any immediate risk to guests at Sunshine, but Parks Canada asked the resort to clear guests with enough notice so that they could leave in an orderly fashion.

“It’s not panicked. It’s not in a hurry,” he said.

Scurfield said the hotel’s 84 rooms were fully booked and Sunshine was working to find alternative accommodations in the area. The hotel’s website said it expected the closure to last two to five days.

“Our No. 1 priority is making sure that they are able to contain the fire and work together with Parks Canada to do so.”

The resort understands why firefighters need to use it as a staging area, said Scurfield.

“They’ve got very steep mountains, very narrow valleys, and it’s been hard to put firefighters on the ground, so that has been a challenge in fighting it.”

Hiking trails in Sunshine Meadows have not been damaged and there is no threat to buildings at the resort, which includes restaurants and a day lodge in addition to the hotel.

“Parks has done a great job at preventing the fire from spreading into our area. They fought hard to prevent that.”

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