10 years after huge fire, Kootenay park growing back
Flames consumed 17,000 hectares of national park in 2003, threatened historic lodge
Devastated by a massive forest fire 10 years ago, a big swath of Kootenay National Park is coming back to life.
A lightning strike sparked the sprawling blaze, which lasted for weeks and consumed 17,000 hectares of forest in the park located roughly 230 kilometres west of Calgary.
Paul Holscher was ordered to leave but he refused, risking his own safety to save Kootenay Park Lodge — the 90-year-old accommodations he operates in the park.
"It just kept getting bigger and bigger so I called and said this fire is heading towards me," said Holscher.
There were anxious moments, he recalled.
"Then I could start hearing it and then you could start feeling the heat. And that point it was like, 'OK, this is a danger. This is an imminent danger,'" he said.
At its peak the fire was only a few hundred meters from Holscher.
Lush foliage returning
"They figured the highway might contain it. But a little bit of wind blew across, and then started burning north on both sides of the highway," he said.
Highway 93 remained closed for several days as 160 firefighters battled to bring it under control.
Today — 10 years later — the park is still badly scared but vibrant lush foliage is starting to regenerate amid the charred trees.
University of Calgary ecologist Edward Johnson has been studying the area in the years since it burned.
He said while the landscape remains rather barren, it's an important process in the regeneration of the forest.
"You're kind of privileged to see the beginning part of how all of these forests actually started," he said.