Parks Canada has issued an evacuation alert for all areas of Waterton Lakes National Park as a wildfire is threatening the popular southern Alberta destination almost a year after a huge blaze burned almost half of the park.
The fire started in the Boundary Creek valley south of Waterton in the United States and is now burning out of control at the border between Glacier National Park in Montana and the Canadian side, said Parks Canada fire information officer John Stoesser.
“Because of the wildfire that’s burning in the Boundary Creek valley, in Glacier National Park, it was moving east toward upper Waterton Lakes. So that’s a trigger point to put the townsite of Waterton under an evacuation alert, since it is relatively close to the townsite,” he said.
He said it’s not yet clear how large the fire is.
The alert means residents and visitors need to prepare themselves and their property for a possible evacuation.
“Because of the potential danger to life and health, Parks Canada has issued an Evacuation Alert for all of Waterton Lakes National Park,” says the Parks Canada statement posted at 10:45 p.m. MT.
Officials say they will try to give as much notice as possible if that happens, but because conditions can change quickly, an order to leave could come on short notice.
People will be required to leave within one hour if an evacuation is ordered.
This is the second summer in a row that wildfires have raged through Waterton Lakes National Park.
In September 2017, the Kenow wildfire consumed more than 190 square kilometres within the park — an area twice the size of Grande Prairie comprising 38 per cent of the park. About 80 per cent of the park’s popular hiking trails were impacted.
Five homes outside of the park were also destroyed. The park was under a mandatory evacuation order that lasted two weeks.
Kevin Hicks, general manager of Waymarker Hospitality, which operates three hotels in the park, says people seem to be a little scared.
“People are wondering what’s going to happen,” he said, estimating the three hotels currently have about 300 guests.
“It’s kind of disappointing, after what we had last year,” Hicks said, adding that some guests are choosing to leave early or cancel upcoming bookings. “It’s a hard hit on the industry, for sure.”
Jeanne Aldrich, who runs the Northland Lodge in Waterton, told the Calgary Eyeopener she had to wake up her guests and tell them about the evacuation alert after Parks Canada officials notified her late Thursday night.
“Some of them were here last year, so it’s kind of like PTSD for everyone around here from last year’s evacuation,” she said.
“We’re feeling very on alert. I don’t know if anyone got any sleep last night.”
Aldrich was optimistic an evacuation wouldn’t be ordered, but she says hotel staff are ready if necessary.
“We’ll get the original china that we have that’s been here since 1930, put it in a laundry basket, wrap it in towels, put it in the car and we’ll go,” she said.