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Food spoilage, frustration as Jasper, Alta., residents grapple with continued power outages

Joanna Vlahos has worked in Jasper National Park’s L&W restaurant since she was young, her daily routine of cleaning and preparing going nearly uninterrupted for decades.

But with the power going in and out for nearly a week, Vlahos has struggled to keep food prepared for the Jasper, Alta., restaurant.

“You come back to the restaurant and you throw everything and you start to make new stuff,” Vlahos, who emigrated to Canada from Greece with her family in 1968, said Thursday.

“And yesterday six o’clock, no power again. And you work in the dark.”

The town, about 360 kilometres west of Edmonton, has only had intermittent power since Sunday due to the nearby Chetamon Mountain wildfire that knocked out the main power grid. Atco has been working to transition the town onto generator power — expected to power the community for weeks — but has seen outages due to the complexity of that process.

Officials say the wildfire, estimated to be 5,600 hectares as of Friday morning, poses no threat to the town. But residents have had to deal with the impacts of power loss, including food perishing from inactive fridges and freezers.

Melody Gaboury is a co-ordinator with Jasper Food Recovery. The organization picks up and distributes food from local businesses.

She said Wednesday’s haul was massive — and gone within two hours when it was brought to the Anglican Church Hall.

“I’m guessing that people have lost what they have at home and they want to replenish it.”

The out-of-control Chetamon Mountain wildfire was started by a lightning strike on Sept. 1. (Parks Canada)

Some parts of town have been without power longer than others. Evans Mwaniki lives on the west side and said that as of Thursday he’d been without for five days.

He worries about the situation growing more dire for those without transportation to other towns as local groceries lose inventory. He wants tourists to avoid visiting the town.

“We have to feed us first before we can give you a tour,” he said.

Quiet streets

Officials have stressed for visitors to make alternate plans and to avoid a stay in Jasper.

Oliver Andrew said the streets of the town are quieter than they would be this time of year. But the manager of the Astoria Hotel said he’s still seeing a lot of business — the hotel has its own generator.

“We’ve had a couple of wedding parties who had to cancel last minute at other resorts, they came and stayed with us.”

The hotel, replete with bar and restaurant, added the diesel generator four years ago when the town moved from locally generated electricity to the grid.

Oliver Andrew, manager of the Astoria Hotel, said the establishment was full on Thursday. The century-old business had its own power generator installed four years ago. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

Andrew said staff are reviewing the emergency response plan.

“They’re telling us that the townsite is still safe. But that said, we understand that things can change pretty quickly as well.

“So we’re just really doing it hour by hour, day by day.”

Jasper fire status

Anne-Claude Pépin with Parks Canada said during a news availability Friday morning that the fire has grown slightly over the last few days.

She said 25 additional firefighters had arrived to aid in the effort, especially around the south side of the wildfire closest to Jasper.

Pépin said progress has been made laying hose and removing fuels — shrubs, leaves, etc. — in the firebreaks. Air tankers have also been dropping fire retardant on the fire’s north side.

With no rain in the forecast, Pépin said the wildfire is expected to grow.

“The next two, three days are going to be hot and dry and windy,” she said, adding that the focus will be to contain the perimeter adjacent to communities.

“Because it is a huge fire and we can only contain certain areas.”

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