Fighting beetles with fire

A controlled forest fire, deliberately set near the Banff Park border to help stop the mountain pine beetle, has led to the closure of several popular West Country hiking trails.

Smoke billows into a clear blue sky west of Whirlpool Point as staff in helicopters keep a close watch on a controlled burn of forest in the region.

A controlled forest fire, deliberately set near the Banff Park border to help stop the mountain pine beetle, has led to the closure of several popular West Country hiking trails.

Kinglet Lake trail and all recreational trails west of Whirlpool Point and east of Saskatchewan River Crossing will remain closed by the province until further notice to protect public safety.

As of mid-Monday, 1,000 hectares of trees were burned, out of nearly 8,000 hectares of forest. Alberta Sustainable Resource workers aim to remove 60 to 80 per cent of trees within this area to help slow the progress of the tree-killing mountain pine beetles.

They also want to burn some old, dry trees to prevent a “catastrophic” wildfire from igniting in future, and to create what’s described as a better balanced ecosystem for wildlife.

Forestry staff initially worked to widen a fire break near Whirlpool Point on the weekend, then started burning the main area. Further sections of this forest will continue to be set ablaze this month as long as weather conditions are right.

The prescribed burn will be evident along a 23-km stretch of Hwy 11 between Whirlpool Point and Saskatchewan River Crossing resort in Banff National Park.

Travellers in the area are warned to proceed with caution, particularly in the early morning and at dusk when smoke may partially obscure roads.

For more information, or to get updates, call 1-866-916-INFO.

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