Sunshine Village closes again and park evacuated as Verdant Creek wildfire grows

Parks Canada has ordered Sunshine Village to shut down operations again after the Verdant Creek fire burning south and west of the resort crept closer on Sunday.

Blaze on B.C. side of Continental Divide forces closure of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

The Verdant Creek wildfire has forced Sunshine Village to close for a second time this month. Smoke from the fire swept over the resort's meadowland hiking trails on Sunday. (Sabri Shawa)

Parks Canada has ordered Sunshine Village to shut down operations again and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park has been closed after the Verdant Creek wildfire expanded.

Hot, dry and windy conditions fuelled the fire's growth in the North Simpson area of Kootenay National Park, which is just across the Continental Divide from the skiing and hiking resort village in Banff National Park.

"We will close for commercial operations (until further notice) starting tomorrow," Sunshine said on its Facebook page Monday.

On Sunday afternoon, conditions were becoming very smoky and flames were sometimes visible from the hiking trails around Rock Isle and Larix lakes at Sunshine Village.

Hot, dry and windy conditions helped the Verdant Creek wildfire, which has been burning near Sunshine Village for several weeks, to grow on Sunday, causing the resort to shut down for a second time. (John Gibson/CBC)

Assiniboine Lodge evacuated 

Assiniboine Lodge, which is about 30 kilometres south of Sunshine on the B.C side of the border, is also being evacuated. 

Officials gave an evacuation order for all of B.C.'s Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park at 8:30 a.m. Monday.

The remote, backcountry lodge and cabins are 28 kilometres from the nearest road and accessible only by helicopter, hiking or skiiing. 

There were about 130 guests at the facility when the order to get out was issued.

"About half of them will be flying out later in the day and the other half have chosen to hike out," said lodge spokesperson Jane Carswell.

"The closure is indefinite right now. So there is a chance we could be open by the weekend, but we are just waiting for further word from B.C. Parks."

Parks Canada says the Verdant Creek wildfire now covers about 5,100 hectares. A week ago it covered about 4,100 hectares.

"The fire remains on the West side of the Continental Divide," Parks Canada said in a release.

"Parks Canada remains confident that the fire is not a threat to communities at this time. Parks Canada fire management specialists will continue to monitor the situation."

Crews had planned to conduct burn-out operations in the Mount Shanks area just southwest of the village on the weekend — deliberately burning sections of forest near the fire's perimeter to help suppress its growth — but cancelled the operation because of changing weather conditions, Parks Canada said.

Rock Isle Lake near the village, seen here, disappeared from view shortly after this picture was taken as the wind shifted and smoke blew eastward. (John Gibson/CBC)

Sunshine Village said it's working with the Town of Banff to find accommodation for its hotel guests and staff. 

At this point, we're playing it by ear. We don't know how long we'll be closed for," said Sunshine Village spokesperson Kendra Scurfield.

"Obviously, the safety of our guests and staff is our No. 1 priority."

The village also shut down for a few days over a week ago to allow fire crews to use the area as a staging ground to fight the fire. 

The areas closed in Kootenay and Banff parks include:

  • Verdant Creek area
  • Fatigue Creek and Simpson River backcountry areas
  • Sunshine Village and Sunshine Village Road
  • All trails in the Egypt Lake area
  • Healy Pass
  • Citadel Pass
  • Sunshine Meadows
  • Backcountry campgrounds Re16, E13 and E5 

​Shadow Lake Lodge and backcountry campgrounds Re6, Re14, and Re 21 are still open, Parks Canada says.

Sunshine Village said it's working with the Town of Banff to find accommodation for its guests and staff during the closure. (Sunshine Village)