Power restored to 90% of Jasper, Alta., residents Friday evening

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The wildfire on Chetamon Mountain, in Jasper National Park, is an estimated 5,600 hectares as of Saturday morning. But Parks Canada officials say the weekend's weather may intensify fire conditions. (Submitted by Parks Canada - image credit)
The wildfire on Chetamon Mountain, in Jasper National Park, is an estimated 5,600 hectares as of Saturday morning. But Parks Canada officials say the weekend's weather may intensify fire conditions. (Submitted by Parks Canada - image credit)

Most Jasper, Alta., residents have had their power restored, but fire crews are bracing for weather that could intensify a large wildfire burning north of the community.

A wildfire burning on Chetamon Mountain, in Jasper National Park, reached the municipality's power supply last weekend. Residents have been experiencing intermittent power outages for days, as the utility switches Jasper, located more than 310 kilometres west of Edmonton, to generator power.

Crews restored power to over two-thirds of the community earlier in the week. Then, as of 6 p.m. Friday, power was restored to about 90 per cent of customers in the area, Amanda Mattern, an Atco Electric regional manager, told reporters during Saturday morning's wildfire update.

"We are currently working to stabilize the system and monitor power use before we proceed [to full capacity]," Mattern said, adding that Atco was able to source an extra generator to support increased demand.

Atco has provided power to priority areas, she said, adding the utility was also able to start rebuilding some of its downed infrastructure Friday — although the continuation of that work will depend on fire conditions.

Chetamon Mountain wildfire

Atco will add more customers to the generation system in a phased approach for areas that are still without power, Mattern said.

Mattern urged Jasper residents to limit their power consumption in the meantime, however, as Atco expects continued power outages over the coming weeks.

As of 2:30 p.m. Saturday, there are four power outages in the Jasper area, affecting fewer than 110 customers, according to Atco's outage map.

Hot, dry, windy conditions in forecast

The wildfire, which started Sept. 1, is still an estimated 5,600 hectares. But crews are prepared for more intense fire conditions throughout the weekend due to hot and dry weather, with higher winds, Parks Canada officials said.

Environment Canada's seven-day forecast for Jasper shows no rain. Temperature highs of 28 C and 27 C are expected Saturday and Sunday, respectively, before dipping to a high of 22 C on Monday.

But this particular fire has grown much faster when stronger winds are blowing, said incident commander Landon Shepherd, adding that, Saturday morning, there were stronger winds in the wildfire area than were originally forecasted.

"We certainly expect that could pose problems for control [of the fire]," Shepherd said, adding Parks Canada is cautiously optimistic that it has the necessary resources to withstand any growth.

There are eight helicopters dropping buckets of water on the flames, and Alberta Wildfire has provided air tankers to help the effort; 110 firefighters, including some from B.C., are also on scene, said Anne-Claude Pépin, Park Canada's plans section chief for the Chetamon Mountain wildfire.

Officials say the fire does not pose a risk to any nearby communities, including Jasper.

Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement for the Jasper National Park area Saturday morning, as smoke may worsen the air quality and reduce visibility.

Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland, who joined Saturday's news conference, re-iterated that people should not be visiting the community if they do not have to.

No state of emergency for Jasper, Alta.

On Friday, the Municipality of Jasper listed several reasons on its webpage following questions from some residents about why it hasn't declared a state of local emergency.

Declaring a state of emergency would give the administration certain powers, such as the ability to issue an evacuation order, control the distribution of essential goods and commandeer property, the update says.

"At this point, we have not seen any need for such powers," Ireland told reporters Saturday.

"It might be a different story if we were actually at risk of an interface between the wildfire and the community."

The municipality is working with Parks Canada on short- to mid-term contingency plans to ensure essential services — fuel and food in grocery stores — remain available, and that seniors and the "vulnerable population" are taken care of, it said in an update Saturday morning.