Highway 93 from Radium to Banff continues to be closed intermittently as crews continue to fight the Wardle wildfire complex in Kootenay National Park.
The fire grew to an estimated 1,200 hectares, jumping over the highway. Fire officials expect the complex to continue growing in size before crews can bring it under control.
“The Wardle fire is exhibiting very active fire behaviour, with very dense smoke settling down in the valley,” reports Jed Cochrane, incident commander for the Wardle Wildfire Complex. “We don’t have any containment on the fire at this point. In the next couple of days, we’re expecting the fire to grow a little bit.”
The wildfire is adjacent to Highway 93 South, and burns on either side of the road. Parks Canada has been opening the roadway to motorists when it is safe to do so. Safety depends on how intense fire activity becomes during the day, how much the fire moves, if smoke limits visibility and if strong winds could cause fire-weakened trees to fall onto the highway. Parks Canada advises motorists to plan ahead, and that travelling between 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. is best. Although fire activity is likely to be reduced during those times, smoke in the air continues to cause visibility issues.
Hwy 93S is closed in the middle of Kootenay National Park. Access is open from either end, south from Radium to McLeod Meadows, including Radium Hot pools. From the north, users can reach Paint Pots, Marble Canyon Campground, and Storm Lodge. Kootenay Park Lodge was evacuated due to the proximity of the Wardle fire to the lodge.
Ten helicopters, two pieces of heavy equipment, and 100 firefighters are battling the fire, which is still not considered under control.
“Our priority will be to manage the Wardle fire and bring it to containment as fast as possible,” says Cochrane.
The wildfire complex began Tuesday, July 31, as several separate lightning-ignited wildfires. The fires quickly grew and on Wednesday, August 1, the two wildfires in the Vermillion Valley merged to form the Wardle Wildfire complex.
Motorists should be prepared to wait at road blocks intermittently or long-term with little notice. Travellers should be prepared with enough fuel and supplies in case they are required to take an alternate route via Highway 1 or 95 through Golden.
Before reopening the highway, fire crews must evaluate to ensure there is no risk of trees falling onto the roadway and they must anticipate the movement of the fire. Heavy smoke also indicated that the highway is unable to open, as it limits visibility.
All trails, backcountry campgrounds and day-use areas remain closed from the Rockwall trail south to the Dolly Varden trail, including the Prospectors Valley area.
A fire ban is now in place for Kootenay, Yoho, and Banff national parks due to the elevated fire danger. The fire ban remains in place for the Southeast Fire Centre.
Check www.DriveBC.ca and www.511.alberta.ca for alternate routes and the latest information.