Power being restored to Jasper, Alta., as weather offers respite in wildfire battle

The Chetamon Mountain wildfire was started by a lightning strike on Sept. 1. (Parks Canada - image credit)
The Chetamon Mountain wildfire was started by a lightning strike on Sept. 1. (Parks Canada - image credit)

Officials continue work to restore power to many residents and businesses in Jasper, Alta., as a wildfire continues to burn just north of the town.

The wildfire on Chetamon Mountain in Jasper National Park is now estimated to cover an area of 6,150 hectares, Parks Canada said Tuesday morning.

The fire, which poses no threat to Jasper, is burning about 15 kilometres north of the town.

Jasper, about 360 kilometres west of Edmonton, experienced intermittent power loss over the weekend with power again going out early Monday morning.

The town is now on backup generators as Atco assesses damage to the main transmission lines. Critical infrastructure such as the wastewater treatment plant and hospital have power restored.

"The power has been effectively restored to critical infrastructure," Amanda Mattern, regional manager for Atco, said during a Tuesday morning news conference.

"We have begun the second phase of electrical restoration to bring additional load to the generator and power other parts of the community."

Critical infrastructure, residents and businesses were expected to see a blackout at 1 p.m. MT as the system transitioned to generators. Power is expected to return in phases and be completed sometime in the late evening, although an exact time estimate was not available.

"We are working as quickly and as safely as possible," Mattern said.

Residents are being asked to conserve electricity as generator power does not have the same reliability as the grid. Brownouts and blackouts are possible so "conservation would dramatically reduce this," Mattern said.

She suggested turning off unnecessary lights and electrical appliances, minimizing the use of air conditioners, and reducing use of appliances like washers and dryers.

Officials are not yet able to determine a timeline to fix the main transmission lines. Parks Canada plans to escort Atco workers to an area now deemed safe to evaluate damage to transmission structures.

Reconsider plans

Visitors are being asked to reconsider their plans to visit Jasper, although Parks Canada is still allowing entry to the park.

"Please consider visiting Jasper another day when we are better able to offer the full services that you've come to expect in our community," Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland said Tuesday.

A large-scale high volume sprinkler system was being moved into Jasper as a proactive measure, according to an  update from Parks Canada Tuesday afternoon. Several semi-trucks with large spools of hose and pumps are set to be parked at the Jasper Activity Centre for several days.

Parks Canada
Parks Canada

Ireland said the primary concern is emergency management but noted the impact on local businesses has been extensive. He said the September long weekend is a critical time for the community.

"Everybody is just trying to recover from a couple of years of COVID so the impact has been really significant."

Three campgrounds south of Highway 16 — Whistlers, Wapiti and Wabasso — have been temporarily closed to conserve power. They will remain closed until at least Sept. 11, when the situation will be reassessed by Parks Canada.

An area closure is also in effect for Pyramid Bench trails.

Parks Canada does not expect closures on the highway but is monitoring it and other vital assets in the area, including Atco power lines, TransMountain power lines and the CN Rail line.

Wildfire status

A lightning strike on Sept. 1 started the fire, which grew from 400 hectares Saturday to an estimated 8,000 hectares before being revised down late Monday.

Overnight rain and cooler temperatures allowed crews to safely access two priority areas, according to Jasper National Park acting field superintendent Jasmine Ramratan.

Firefighters have been able to lay out sprinklers and hoses on the south side of the fire while helicopters made progress bucketing wildfire on the north side.

"We have a window of opportunity thanks to the short-lived relief in behaviour and this is expected to continue until Wednesday," Ramratan said.

She said the wildfire is expected to increase in intensity without more rain. Weather will have a significant impact on the fire's behaviour in the coming days, she said.

"It is a dynamic situation."

Parks Canada
Parks Canada