Pine Lake reopens as Parks regains control of wildfire

Pine Lake reopens as Parks regains control of wildfire
Salt River day use area is now open to visitors after Parks Canada dropped the nearby wildfire rating to “being managed.”Photo: Meagan Wohlberg.

Parks Canada is happily welcoming visitors back into Wood Buffalo National Park after reopening the Pine Lake Road and dropping the nearby wildfire’s rating to “being managed.”

“Fire behaviour is currently low and we are reopening the Pine Lake Road and the Pine Lake Recreation Area as of noon on Friday, June 27 and look forward to welcoming visitors back into the park,” Parks Canada spokesperson Tim Gauthier told The Journal in an email last Friday.

Parson’s Lake Rd. remains closed, along with most of the hiking trails near Pine Lake, to facilitate quick communication with the public if the fire status changes, he added.

Wood Buffalo fire crews, with the help of crews from Waterton Lakes, Mount Revelstoke, Prince Albert, Riding Mountain, Pukaskwa and Jasper National Parks, have been battling the Pine Lake wildfire for two weeks. The fire was considered out of control until last Wednesday.

Over the past week, crews have been working in the burned out areas to monitor and extinguish hot spots. Helicopters are still out in force dropping buckets of water along the burnout area.

Firefighters from Waterton Lakes rotated out on the weekend, but an additional crew from La Mauricie was brought in to replace them.

The total burn area by Monday was more than 71,000 hectares.

According to Gauthier, there have been no unusual issues with this fire.

“All wildfires present challenges, but Parks Canada’s firefighters are highly trained and ready to adapt as conditions change,” he said.

Gauthier said Parks Canada was pleased with the “excellent” cooperation from the town’s residents during the incident.

“Local people are familiar with wildfire conditions each summer and generally understand the occasional requirement for road or facility closures due to fires,” he said.

Last week saw several more fires ignite in the park, bringing the total burning up to 16 on Monday. While a bout of rain Thursday gave some respite, warm, dry weather over the weekend kept the fire conditions extreme.

A wildfire 12 km south of Hwy. 5 and 45 km west of Fort Smith grew over the week to 4,684 hectares and while the growth is low, Parks Canada is actioning the fire to keep it away from the highway.

According to Parks, a small-scale burnout operation to remove volatile fuels between the fire and the highway has successfully decreased the threat.

Whooping cranes not threatened

In response to queries about the possible danger to nearby nests of endangered whooping cranes, Gauthier said, “at this time, no nesting sites are threatened.”

He said the nests are located in wetland areas, which provide some protection from wildfires.

Should a wildfire encroach on the area, Parks Canada would respond as if the nests were cabins or other values at risk, Gauthier said.

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