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Wildfire prevention work stepped up after year of big blazes near Alberta mountain towns

Following a tense wildfire season that saw crews battle massive blazes in Waterton and Kootenay National Parks, crews are stepping up efforts to try to cut down the wildfire risk around some Rocky Mountain communities.

Massive fires spread through Waterton Lakes, Kootenay national parks in 2017

Crews cut trees earlier this fall as part of an ongoing Firesmart strategy by Parks Canada, aimed at removing trees, branches and deadfall near towns like Banff. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Following a tense wildfire season that saw crews battle massive blazes in Waterton Lakes and Kootenay national parks, crews are stepping up efforts to try to cut down the wildfire risk around some Rocky Mountain communities.

As part of its ongoing Firesmart strategy, Parks Canada crews have been out cutting and removing trees, branches and deadfall near towns like Banff.

Jane Park with Parks Canada says the strategy is to reduce wildfire fuel.

"We've got number of landscape level fuel management areas where we've done mechanical logging or hand thinning to reduce the amount of fuel." she said.

"So if a fire were to come toward Banff, it would be something we could work from in terms of fire management."

Parks Canada spokeswoman Jane Park says the goal of the Firesmart program is to try to keep wildfires from growing to unmanageable sizes. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Parks Canada is also working on a wildfire risk assessment program which includes computer modelling to help steer firefighting, planning and prevention strategies.

The town of Banff runs a Firesmart program as well and has chipped in funding for the risk assessment.

Fire Chief Silvio Adamo says fuel reduction strategies are critical as blowing embers from wildfires can start fires near developed areas.

"Preparedness is key and the town has put a lot of effort and length getting people out of harm's way," he said.

Smoke billows in Waterton Lakes National Park on the morning of Sept. 12 behind the historic Prince of Wales hotel, after the Kenow wildfire reached the townsite of Waterton. (Wes Dewsbery)

The Kenow Wildfire grew to about 38,000 hectares in late summer, destroying large swaths of Waterton Lakes National Park in southwestern Alberta and damaging parts of the Waterton townsite, including buildings and businesses in the surrounding area.

Earlier in the year, a stubborn fire in the Verdant Creek area flared up near Banff and Kootenay National Parks, also forcing the evacuation of back-country areas.

Several smaller fires also flared up across southern Alberta throughout the summer.

With files from Dave Gilson

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