Wildfire closes big stretch of highway through Kootenay National Park
A woman takes in the smoke blanketing Mt. Rundle from a forest fire in Kootenay National Park as she stands on a dock on the Vermillion lakes near Banff, Alta. Sunday July 15, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, August 3, 2017 7:43PM EDT
BANFF, Alta. -- The highway that winds through British Columbia's Kootenay National Park was closed for much of the day Wednesday as wildfire smoke made for dangerous driving conditions.
Parks Canada said it closed Highway 93 from Castle Junction near the Trans-Canada Highway to the town of Radium Hot Springs some 100 kilometres south.
The highway reopened late Wednesday but drivers were being warned that with shifting conditions, there was always the possibility they would be forced to detour again.
On Thursday afternoon, Parks Canada issued a news release suggesting that the best time to travel the highway over the long weekend would be between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Parks incident commander Jane Park said the smoke was extremely dense in some areas.
"The visibility is definitely under 100 metres, some places probably under 50 metres," she said earlier in the day.
The Verdant Creek wildfire burning just west of the Alberta-B.C. boundary has shuttered British Columbia's Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park and closed parts of Banff and Kootenay national parks.
Park said the fire now covers an estimated 110 square kilometres -- double previous estimates.
"That's significantly larger than the last estimate mostly due to the fact that we were unable to get to the southern end of the fire to do accurate mapping due to smoke," she said.
The fire has also closed the Sunshine Village resort in Banff to visitors.
Parks Canada ordered the resort to clear out guests nearly two weeks ago to make room for firefighting crews and heavy machinery to fight the Verdant Creek wildfire a couple of kilometres away.
The resort reopened to guests three days later, but Sunshine Village said on Monday that hot, dry and windy weather was making the fire more active in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.
Park said starting Thursday, firefighters would once again be working out of Sunshine Village, where it is less smoky than the area of Kootenay National Park where they are currently based.
There are about 60 firefighters and 10 helicopters battling the fire, but Park said she is expecting that to increase in the coming days.