Old forest untouched by fire for decades or more and hot, dry conditions have proved a challenging combination in the West Country.
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development wildlife officer Barry Shellian said conditions are unique for many reasons in Banff National Park where Spreading Creek Wildfire is approaching 17,000 acres burned.
The Kootenay Plains is typically dry anyway but the recent heatwave and absence is significant rainfall has exasperated that.
“The other couple of items were dealing with out there is a particularly old forest as well.
“Many of these areas haven’t seen a wildfire for a particularly long time.”
Wildfire is a natural part of the ecosystem and is key to regenerating forests from time to time.
“When you look across the land base we’ll see a mosaic, sort of a jigsaw puzzle of different ages and species. These fires are a regulator of natural processes.”
In the Spreading Creek area, it has been decades — and in some places centuries — since a fire swept through.
Shellian said the fire is being held.
“The fire is going to continue to grow but it is not out of control.”
About 125 firefighters from the province and Parks Canada and seven helicopters are working the borders of the fire and using natural barriers such as high ground and rivers to contain it.
“Although this fire now is approaching 7,000 hectares there are mountains on either side. We use those natural barriers and we enhance those natural barriers.”
Besides water and sprinkler systems, fire crews are using controlled burns to direct the fire.
While Hwy 11 remains open but an information barricade has been set up 60 km west of Nordegg. Visitors are urged to find another part of the West Country to enjoy for the time being.
Hwy 93 is closed from Lake Louise to Saskatchewan River Crossing.
Those who must travel in other areas can check www.Alberta511 for the routes’ current status.
The province served notice last Friday that an area including the mountains south of Hwy 11, north to Cline River and extending from the Banff National Park border east to Whiterabbit Creek is off limits to all but individuals with an ESRD permit.
In Red Deer County, a fire ban was put in place on Monday because of the hot and dry conditions.
For more information on the Spreading Creek Wildfire go to www.albertafirebans.ca
Closed as of Monday evening:
— Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve, Cavalcade Group Use, Two O’Clock Creek and Siffleur Falls and Trail Closed
— Hwy 93 from Lake Louise to Saskatchewan River Crossing (Hwy 11)