Some of the hundreds of people forced by the Kenow wildfire to flee their homes in southwestern Alberta are being given a two-hour window Wednesday to view their properties and check on animals.

The wildfire had been contained in size to 35,000 hectares by early Wednesday afternoon. That's down from about 42,000 hectares Tuesday evening.

It had quadrupled in size in less than two days, roaring through Waterton Lakes National Park and into the townsite — where it destroyed the visitor's centre and some outbuildings — as well as forcing the evacuation of about 500 people in total from Waterton and parts of the Municipal District of Pincher Creek, Cardston County and the Blood Reserve, the largest reserve in Canada.

Henry and Missy Primrose

Henry Primrose and his wife Missy managed to transport eight horses from their property near Twin Butte to the rodeo grounds at Pincher Creek. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

On Wednesday morning, officials confirmed that five homes, five outbuildings, two large sheds and a bridge had been destroyed on private property in the Municipal District of Pincher Creek. The flames also consumed fence lines, hay, and some power lines.

'Their property south of us … unfortunately we've heard they didn't fare so well … We live in a great neighbourhood so we'll all help out.' - Henry Primrose, Twin Butte resident

Henry Primrose said he was hopeful as he headed in to check on the property he owns near Twin Butte — about 250 kilometres south of Calgary. He managed to transport eight horses to the rodeo grounds at Pincher Creek, he said.

"I expect that everything is going to be fine when we get home," he said. "From what we hear, we don't have power so we have a two-hour window to load up our deep freeze and get it out of there and try and save it."

Primrose's neighbours weren't as lucky.

"Their property south of us … unfortunately we've heard they didn't fare so well," he said. "Our hearts and prayers go out to her. From what we understand her livestock is fine and you can always rebuild. And we live in a great neighbourhood so we'll all help out."

Heidi Matheson

Heidi Matheson was able to move half of her cattle on Tuesday when she was locked out. She was able to move the rest on Wednesday. (CBC)

Heidi Matheson lives near the Shell Waterton Gas Complex. She was one of the residents allowed to go back to look at her property.

"Nothing lost, thankfully," Matheson said on her way out. She hasn't been told when she can permanently return to her home.

"You could still see a few little smoke spots way back by the edge of the mountains, but our place was good. All our neighbours just up by the Shell plant … everything up there is still good."

'Really sad'

Murray and Elaine White returned to their home overlooking Waterton Lakes National Park early Tuesday. They recently moved from Victoria.

"Really sad to see Waterton go up in flames as it has," Murray said.

Murray and Elaine White

Murray and Elaine White drove all night to return to their home overlooking Waterton Lakes National Park early Tuesday. (CBC)

Elaine says there are so many questions that need answers.

"Extremely scary. I was thinking, what do I need to pack up? What about my animals? What's important? Where are my papers?"

'Sigh of relief' that flames no longer threaten many homes

Those in the Pincher Creek area who lost their homes have been notified by police, said RCMP Cpl. Curtis Peters. He said other homes and buildings in the area are no longer threatened by flames.

"Anybody that's still wondering should be able to have a little bit of a sigh of relief that if they haven't spoken to us, their houses are still OK," he said.

No update was available by noon Wednesday for damage to other areas hit by the fire, including Cardston County and the Blood Reserve.

Crews now focused on backcountry structures in Waterton

Within the Waterton Lakes National Park boundary, crews are now focused on protecting structures in backcountry regions of the popular tourist area, officials said Wednesday.

Kenow Fire update as of Sept. 13, 9 p.m.

As of Wednesday at 9 p.m. the fire was about 35,000 hectares and there is a potential for precipitation later tonight, which could provide some relief, Parks Canada said. (Government of Alberta)

"This fire is still active; there are still very dry fuels out there," said Parks Canada information officer John Stoesser. 

A damage assessment is underway in the townsite of Waterton, where some buildings were damaged. But crews were able to protect the historic Prince of Wales Hotel and the majority of the other buildings by spraying water and fire retardant through the night.

"The sprinkler system held up very well," said Stoesser. "We had a number of days to plan and prepare that protection around the townsite. There was lots of work done in terms of vegetation removal, too."

Cooler temperatures help firefighters

Crews got a small boost from Mother Nature overnight Tuesday in the form of cooler temperatures and light rain, and the forecast for this week is more of the same.

"We're seeing lower temperatures and higher humidity," said Stoesser. "The fuels are still dry and there's precipitation in the forecast for [Wednesday] evening."

How the fire spread

The wildfire was sparked by a lightning strike in the Flathead Valley of B.C. about two weeks ago. It spread southeast.

An evacuation alert was given for Waterton Lakes National Park last Thursday, which was upgraded to an evacuation order on Friday.

The fire started about two weeks ago with a lightning strike in the Flathead Valley in B.C., just across the border from Waterton Lakes Provincial Park.

Kenow wildfire tanker loading water bomber

A air tanker is loaded with fire retardant as part of the battle against the Kenow wildfire in southwest Alberta. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

It exploded into Alberta through the Akamina Pass on Monday night.

A state of emergency was declared in Cardston County and the Municipal District of Pincher Creek. However, a state of emergency was not declared in the Town of Pincher Creek, but Mayor Don Anderberg said an evacuation plan was being formed should flames approach.

A Shell gas complex also sits just north of the Waterton Lakes National Park boundary, but firefighters managed to protect it from the flames.

Evacuation centres

  • All evacuees from the Municipal District of Pincher Creek are advised to check in at the command centre set up at Vertical Church at 1200 Ken Thornton Blvd., or to check in remotely by calling 403-904-8016.

  • In Cardston County, evacuees are being directed to the Civic Center at 67 3rd Avenue W. in the Town of Cardston, or to call 403-653-3366.

  • Members of the Blood Reserve are being told that the multipurpose building in Stand Off has been opened to receive evacuees. Evacuees from the reserve are being asked to register at the building even if they don't intend to stay there. People who are still in the areas of the reserve that are under evacuation, and who are unable to leave due to transportation concerns, are asked to contact the Blood Tribe Police for assistance.

​With files from Carolyn Dunn, Bryan Labby, Monty Kruger and Colin Hall

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Henry Primrose managed to transport 800 head of cattle to the rodeo grounds at Pincher Creek. In fact, he transported eight horses.
    Sep 13, 2017 3:00 PM MT