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Chetamon Mountain wildfire saw ‘negligible growth’ Saturday despite hot, windy weather

Atco Electric is working to add another generator to further support electricity going to Jasper, Alta., while firefighters continue battling intense wildfire conditions Sunday.

More extreme wildfire conditions were expected this weekend due to forecasted dry, hot and windy weather.

The north end of the Chetamon Mountain wildfire, in Jasper National Park, saw the intense flames Saturday. But there was “negligible growth” thanks to suppression efforts, said Landon Shepherd, Parks Canada’s incident commander for the wildfire, during a news conference Sunday.

“We were able to be quite successful yesterday, despite the increased winds that were present on the fire and those warm temperatures and dry air,” Shepherd said.

The wildfire, which ignited Sept. 1, grew to about 5,800 hectares as of Sunday morning.

Strong winds are pushing the flames north again Sunday, with most of the resources being dispatched there, said Anne-Claude Pépin, Park Canada’s section chief for the wildfire.

There are 126 firefighters, including some from British Columbia, on the ground, and eight helicopters dropping water from above.

Officials expects the fire to become unsafe for firefighters on the ground Sunday afternoon, so from there on helicopters will likely become the primary means to battle the fire. 

The weather is expected to become more favourable in the coming week, which should decrease the fire activity, they said.

The team is especially confident in its ability to suppress the north and south ends of the fire, the areas closest to nearby communities, Shepherd said.

No communities, including Jasper, which is about 315 kilometres west of Edmonton, are at risk of the fire. But Environment Canada issued another special air quality statement for the Jasper National Park area due to the smoke.

The fire has grown so big, in such a remote area, that Parks Canada can only do so much to extinguish it until the weather cools, Shepherd said. But wildfires are a natural occurrence, so as long as people are safe, the agency can let the flames go on.

“It’s sort of ineffective and not reasonable to expect to affect the entire fire area, nor is the entire fire area a threat,” he said.

Atco trying to connect extra generator

Friday evening, Atco Electric was able to restore power to 90 per cent of residents who saw their electricity out because of the fire. There was a power outage around 2:15 a.m. Sunday that later restored at 6 a.m., but since then the electricity has otherwise held, said Amanda Mattern, an Atco Electric regional manager.

Jasper residents have experienced intermittent power outages for a week, as Atco switches residents to generator power after the wildfire reached the community’s supply.

As of 3 p.m. Sunday, there are four outages in the Jasper area affecting fewer than 90 customers, according to Atco’s outage map.

Atco has seven generators at its disposal providing electricity to Jasper residents, and they can handle the demand, Mattern said. Crews are working to add a seventh generator, an extra the utility was able to source that has now arrived in Jasper.

“We continue to see these issues with stability, therefore we’re being very cautious as we add on additional load throughout today,” Mattern said.

“As long as all residents and businesses continue to conserve power, we feel confident that we’ll be able to make some progress today.”

Several utility trucks are on a dirt road, one of has a crane that is holding up a man in a safety suit. The man is working on powerlines. There are scorched trees to the right of the trucks. Mountains are in background. It's a sunny day with a clear blue sky.
Atco Electric crews are working to rebuild infrastructure that has been damaged by the wildfire on Chetamon Mountain in Jasper National Park. (Submitted by Parks Canada)

She suggested residents limit their use of lights and appliances such as air conditioners, stoves and laundry machines.

During Sunday’s news conference, Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland also laid out electricity allocation priorities, with power for critical infrastructure, residents and essentials such as gas stations and grocery stores topping the list. 

Officials again urged people to postpone visiting Jasper if possible, to avoid adding further burden to the electrical system.

Campgrounds in the area will remain closed until at least Sept. 25, at which time Parks Canada will re-evaluate the situation, Shepherd said, adding the agency is currently only able to provide essential and critical services.

Mayor expresses gratitude

Sunday marked that last regularly scheduled news conference regarding the Chetamon Mountain wildfire, and Ireland took time to express his gratitude toward those on the front lines the last 10 days.

“I might say that they have been working tirelessly, but I know that they are exhausted,” Ireland said. “Yet, they work on to protect and restore our community.”

The mayor also thanked Jasper residents, volunteers and business owners. He said some businesses have acquired their own generators and plan on using them until the situation is resolved, to ease the load on the community’s generator power system.

“We have seen a united community response to a most serious and significant community threat,” Ireland said.

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