Authorities continue to work to restore power to many residents and businesses in Jasper, Alta., as a wildfire continues to burn just north of town.
The Mount Chetamon wildfire 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 kilometers north of town.
Jasper, about 360 kilometers west of Edmonton, experienced an intermittent power outage over the weekend as the power went out again early Monday morning.
The city is now using backup generators as Atco assesses damage to major transmission lines. Critical infrastructure such as the sewage treatment plant and the hospital have been restored.
“Power has effectively been restored to critical infrastructure,” Amanda Mattern, Atco regional manager, said at a press conference Tuesday morning.
“We have started 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 power outage at 1 p.m. MT as the system switched to generators. Power is expected to return in phases and be complete by late evening, although an exact time estimate was not available.
“We are working as quickly and safely as possible,” Mattern said.
Residents are asked to conserve electricity, as generator power does not have the same reliability as the grid. Brownouts and blackouts are possible, so “conservation would significantly reduce that,” Mattern said.
She suggested turning off unnecessary lights and electrical appliances, minimizing the use of air conditioners, and reducing the use of appliances like washers and dryers.
Officials are not yet able to determine a timeline for repairing major transmission lines. Parks Canada plans to escort Atco workers to an area now deemed safe to assess damage to transmission structures.
Visitors are urged to reconsider their intention to visit Jasper, although Parks Canada still allows entry to the park.
“Please consider visiting Jasper on another day when we are better able to provide the comprehensive services you have come to expect in our community,” Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland said Tuesday.
According to an update from Parks Canada on Tuesday afternoon, a large-scale, high-volume sprinkler system has been moved to Jasper as a proactive measure. Several tractor-trailers with large reels of hoses and pumps are to be parked at the Jasper Activity Center for several days.
Ireland said the main concern was emergency management, but noted the impact on local businesses had been significant. He said the September long weekend was a critical time for the community.
“Everyone is just trying to recover from a few years of COVID, so the impact has been really big.”
Three campgrounds south of Highway 16 – Whistlers, Wapiti and Wabasso – have been temporarily closed to save electricity. They will remain closed until at least September 11, when the situation will be reassessed by Parks Canada.
An area closure is also in effect for the 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.
A lightning strike on September 1 sparked the blaze, which grew from 400 hectares on Saturday to around 8,000 hectares before being revised down Monday evening.
Overnight rain and cooler temperatures allowed teams to safely access two priority areas, according to Jasper National Park Acting Field Superintendent Jasmine Ramratan.
Firefighters were able to install sprinklers and hoses on the south side of the blaze while helicopters made progress suppressing wildfires on the north side.
“We have a window of opportunity through the short-lived behavioral relief and that should continue through Wednesday,” Ramratan said.
She said the wildfire is expected to increase in intensity without more rain. The weather will have a significant impact on the behavior of the fire in the coming days, she said.
“It’s a dynamic situation.”