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Longtime trail-riding operation, warden's station among buildings destroyed by Alberta fire

A trail-riding business that has operated in Waterton Lakes National Park for close to 50 years was among the buildings destroyed in the wildfire raging in southwestern Alberta, Parks Canada said as it gave its latest update on the blaze.

'That was a monster of a fire and it has devastated Waterton'

A video showing the damage at Alpine Stables, near Waterton Lakes National Park, from the Kenow wildfire. 2:37

A trail-riding business that has operated in Waterton Lakes National Park for close to 50 years was among the buildings destroyed in the wildfire raging in southwestern Alberta, Parks Canada said as it gave its latest update on the blaze. 

Alpine Stables, which has operated a few kilometres northeast of the Visitor Centre since 1969, was reduced to blackened rubble, Parks said in a statement Friday morning. Days earlier, officials had confirmed that the Visitor Centre was destroyed.

"This morning we were allowed back into the park to look at our burned-out site … which was a very hard thing to see," said stable owner Deb Watson. 

"We went through the things and collected a few special items that we found and talked with the park a little bit about what the plan might be."

Members of the Barrus and Watson families gather where the main barn once stood at Alpine Stables. It was destroyed by the Kenow wildfire this week. (Azley Watson)

About 40 horses were safely removed before fire hit the area. The Watsons' home, which is outside the park boundary, was not damaged.

"I don't know why some things burned and some things didn't," said Watson, adding that they hope to rebuild. "That was a monster of a fire and it has devastated Waterton."

Fire ripped through Warden Station and campground

The Kenow wildfire roared across the border from B.C. about a week ago and at its height forced the evacuation of about 500 people

Despite some recent rain and cooler weather, it's still classified as out of control and may grow again if it gets warmer and drier on the weekend, as expected, Parks Canada said in the statement. 

However, the fire didn't grow overnight Thursday and sits at 36,000 hectares.

Parks Canada also released new details on other buildings that were damaged by the Kenow wildfire:

  • The East Gate Warden Station sustained a total loss of the structure, equipment and vehicles.
  • Crandell Campground was significantly affected.
  • The Bison Paddock was damaged.
  • The exterior of the Waterton Lakes Golf Course clubhouse sustained minor damage.
  • Transmission lines from the park boundary to the townsite sustained significant damage. As of Friday at noon, crews were working to restore power.

The homes and businesses in the Waterton townsite itself — including the historic Prince of Wales Hotel — escaped unscathed thanks to the efforts of several fire departments from around southern Alberta.

The Red Rock Canyon and Cameron Lake day-use areas and facilities, including the Alpine Club of Canada hut, were also left undamaged.

70% of park's forests lost, MP says

In a Facebook live video made by Foothills MP John Barlow on Thursday, he described the damage as "devastating."

He says 30 per cent of Waterton Lakes National Park has been severely damaged, 70 per cent of the forested area has been lost and five homes outside of the park destroyed.


"Hard to fathom the damage until you see it," Barlow said.

Parks Canada spokesperson Elisabeth Caron said it will be some time before officials know exactly how much of the park was lost to the flames, but she called the damage severe.

Evacuation orders continue in some areas

As of afternoon Friday:

  • An evacuation order for Waterton Lakes National Park remains in effect. 
  • Evacuation orders for the M.D. of Pincher Creek and Cardston County have been lifted.
  • The evacuation order for Castle Mountain Resort was lifted Friday.
  • Parts of the Blood Tribe reserve had been evacuated, but that order was lifted earlier in the week.
  • All other areas previously under an evacuation order remain on an evacuation alert.
A sculpture made of horseshoes is all that remains from a building at Alpine Stables near the Waterton townsite. (Azley Watson)