Wildfire roundup: Rain slows blaze in Jasper; Evacuees to return to parts of Sask.
The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, July 11, 2015 6:32PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, July 12, 2015 10:52AM EDT
While wildfires continue to rage across Western Canada on Saturday, some regions received good news as conditions may allow some residents to return to their homes in Saskatchewan. And wet weather slowed the spread of a fire in Alberta’s Jasper National Park. In B.C., new fires were sparked overnight.
PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. -- Officials were organizing a convoy Saturday to allow people to return to communities unaffected by Saskatchewan's wildfires, but there was no such luck for thousands of evacuees still biding their time in emergency shelters.
Several northeastern communities have not been threatened by the fires eating through extensive areas of the province's forests, but they were cut off when the highway north of La Ronge was closed due to the fire risk.
The highway was to be opened temporarily around suppertime so that emergency officials could escort between 100 and 150 people through the fire zone and back to their homes.
The road was not being opened to commercial vehicles or general traffic.
Highways spokesman Joel Cherry stressed that people set to return to the communities of Missinipe, Otter Rapids, Brabant, Southend and the Athabasca Basin have never been under an evacuation order.
"We're going to be very careful and we want to make very clear that we are only allowing permanent residents back to their communities," Cherry said. "We're not allowing people to return to communities where evacuation orders are still in effect.
"The police are going to be there as well and we are going to be checking IDs to be sure as possible that we're just letting permanent residents back."
The convoy was also providing a chance to haul much-needed supplies such as food and fuel to the communities trapped behind fire lines.
There was no such news for the 13,000 evacuees facing increasing boredom and frustration as they wait to return home.
"No new evacuees are going home," said Karri Kampf of emergency services. "Not today."
There was a bit of good news: one major fire within two kilometres of the village of Pinehouse, where 900 people usually live, had not come any closer.
There were more than 120 fires burning in the province, although the situation was stable, said Steve Roberts of the wildfire management branch.
"Even though some were active, they did not increase the community threats ... or add new communities under threat," Roberts said.
Weather conditions remain the biggest enemy for fire crews, he said. Saturday was expected to be hot, dry and windy. There was also a chance of lightning.
"We have this issue that rain gets forecast, but it is in such small and scattered amounts that the benefits we often get from some of those rain showers are (limited) ... or worse yet they come with lightning."
What is needed is something more drastic, he said.
"We are looking at the long range hoping for a shift that would bring an entirely new weather pattern into the province. It's kind of what we need to change the big picture for us."
Smoke was also expected to be an issue Saturday.
"Smoke loads in some communities will be extremely heavy to the point we will not be able to fly aircraft. It may actually ... affect road travel in some locations," Roberts said.
With not much change in the situation, fire-fighting reinforcements were still being added. The remaining third of several hundred soldiers were being trained to head into the flames and almost 70 reservists from Saskatchewan were expected to join them after training in Prince Albert.
As well, 23 fire specialists arrived from the United States to help manage crews, heavy equipment and aircraft.
Rain slows wildfire in Jasper
JASPER, Alta. -- Moisture has helped to slow a fire that forced the evacuation of 1,000 tourists and outdoor enthusiasts from the popular Maligne Valley in Alberta's Jasper National Park.
"Yay, it rained!" Parks Canada spokeswoman Kim Weir said Saturday during an update on the 50-square-kilometre blaze.
Weir said four to six millimetres of rain had fallen overnight and more was expected, giving firefighters a chance to get on the ground and attack the flames directly.
"This rain and the forecasted weather over the next few days will reduce fire behaviour potential and allow fire crews to safely work on priority areas of the fire," she said.
"This is a huge shift."
The fire was not yet contained, but did not get any bigger, Weir said.
"Under current conditions, we do not expect it to grow."
No facilities were threatened and the Jasper townsite was safe, Weir added. However, the Maligne Valley and the scenic Skyline Trail remained closed to campers and hikers.
A fire ban was extended to all the mountain parks, including Banff, Yoho, Revelstoke, Glacier and Kootenay.
All other campgrounds and day-use areas were open.
Weir couldn't say when the Maligne Valley may be reopened.
"It's a ways down the road for sure. We would only open it if -- and only if -- we determine it's 100 per cent safe for people to be in that area ... as well as drive the road down to the Maligne Valley.
"It's impossible to tell right now. That depends largely on Mother Nature."
Maligne Lake itself is a popular destination for tourists, canoeists and back-country campers because of its stunning scenery. The water shimmers in hues of turquoise, blue and green and the lake is surrounded by a ring of majestic mountains capped by glaciers.
Weir said there is no reason people shouldn't visit the Jasper park, but she did warn that some areas could be smoky.
Lightning sparks new fires in B.C.
VANCOUVER -- Lightning has sparked about 60 new wildfires in British Columbia during a season where fire fighting resources are already stretched thin.
Fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek says about 60 of the 67 new fires that started on Friday were caused by lightning, and most are located in the eastern part of the province.
Skrepnek says that Friday saw the highest number of fires started in one day so far this season, where 1,025 wildfires have burned since April 1.
Currently 238 fires are burning across the province, and about 2,300 people, including crews from Ontario, are involved in battling the blazes.
Cariboo Regional District spokeswoman Shelly Burich says a fire near Puntzi Lake in B.C.'s central interior has destroyed structures on four properties, including a resort, two permanent homes, one seasonal home and multiple out buildings.
The Puntzi Lake fire has grown to about 70 square kilometres, forced residents from 90 properties from their homes, and affected about 300 residents of the Tsi Del Del First Nation.
Instagram users in Alberta are documenting the wildfires burning in Jasper National Park, posting dramatic photos online.
This interactive map shows photos of the blaze, along with the location of where the images were captured from.