Status of Alberta wildfire that grew to 676 hectares downgraded

The fire near base of Blackrock Mountain is now being held by responders, wildfire information officer Travis Fairweather says.

Biggest fire of the season in province now being held, official says

A water bomber flies overhead as an out-of-control wildfire burns near Banff National Park in Alberta on Saturday. (Helen Pike/CBC)

A fire north of Canmore designated as out-of-control this weekend is being held by responders and is not expected to grow significantly, a wildfire information officer confirmed Monday morning.

After it was discovered on Sept. 4, a group of four air tankers, two helicopters and 14 wildland firefighters were dispatched to fight the fire, located in the forest reserve near the base of Blackrock Mountain and at the west end of Township Road 270.

The fire grew from 10 to 676 hectares in about three days, and wildfire information officer Travis Fairweather told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday that it is the biggest the province has seen all year.

"This fire is probably the same size of every other fire combined for the entire year," Fairweather said.

A wet spring has made for a sleepier-than-usual fire season in Alberta, and successful controlled burns in the area limited the fire's ability to grow.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Cooler temperatures good news for crews

Crews initially used helicopters and air tankers to fight the fire, which never threaten campgrounds, homes or communities, Fairweather said.

"It was a fair enough distance away from anyone," he said.

Now that the bigger flames have been extinguished, the manual work begins to ensure it isn't in danger of spreading.

"That's when they have to get out the shovels and the axes and really start to dig into the ground … [to] find any of these areas that are still smoking, dig those up, put those out," Fairweather said.

"So it could be several more days still of hard work on their end, but we're obviously happy to have that status as no longer out of control."

Fire crews are also grateful for a wetter, colder Labour Day weekend, Fairweather said. But those factors don't necessarily mean this is the last fire of the season.

"All it took was a few days, a week or so, of this hot dry weather for the forest to dry out [and] … for a fire to start," he said. 

"Obviously, we're happy to see the rain, we're happy to see the cooler weather. But all it takes is a couple more days of hot weather for that fire hazard to raise back up."

Much of the area surrounding Calgary and large swathes of southern Alberta are currently under fire bans

There have been a total of 598 wildfires so far this year in Alberta with two months left to go in wildfire season. There were 989 total wildfires last year. The five-year average is 1,277, according to Alberta Wildfire.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener, Sarah Rieger and Helen Pike