Wildfire remaining classified as ‘being held’ until spring

With a blanket of white now covering the landscape, the time has come for Parks Canada to put the Chetamon Wildfire to bed for the winter.

The agency issued its final update on the wildfire that was started by a lightning strike on Chetamon Mountain on Sept. 1. That was back when the daily high temperatures were hovering around 30 C.

This last week, the Jasper Warden Station has recorded up to 22 centimetres of snow on the ground. In the wildfire zone, however, it’s a slightly different picture.

“It looks like there's at least five centimeters up there,” said Local Incident Commander Landon Shepherd. “That area gets stripped by the winds a little bit more, but in the more sheltered portions of the fire, there's at least five centimeters.”

Much of the snow is resting on the canopy, however. That is not quite enough to downgrade the wildfire’s status to “under control,” according to Parks Canada’s weekly update.

The Chetamon Wildfire will therefore remain classified as “being held” until the spring. That’s when fire specialists can reassess its status after the spring melt.

Fire specialists have recently also been able to more accurately determine the perimeter of the wildfire. They now estimate its size at approximately 6,450 hectares, an increase of 450 hectares from its previously announced estimated area.

Shepherd said the new measurement is much more accurate.

“What we often end up with is some changes and tweaks as we complete the mapping. There's still some elements where it short-cuts across rocky features. There could be a more refined estimate at some point here.”

There has been some moderate fire activity recently due to persistent dry conditions coupled with wind. No significant growth has occurred in suppression zones of the wildfire since Sept. 11.

Parks Canada isn’t expecting the wildfire to grow at this point, but they will continue to keep their eyes on it.

As the winter progresses, Shepherd said that eastern portion of the park can become snow-free a lot quicker, “especially as climate change has seemed to bring us some longer periods of above zero [temperatures] in what would have traditionally been more of a reliable winter period.”

“We have seen conditions where certainly there could be a fire possible in what would have normally been winter. It is certainly possible that there's still smouldering spots away that might show up through the winter. Just because we're feeling cold and snowy here in town doesn't mean that everywhere on that large and complex wildfire still is.”

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh