Power restoration to Jasper, Alta., 'extremely challenging' as wildfire battle continues
Officials continue to warn against tourists visiting the town due to rolling power outages
Jasper, Alta., continues to experience power issues after its main grid was knocked out by wildfire.
The wildfire on Chetamon Mountain in Jasper National Park is estimated to cover an area of around 5,500 hectares, Parks Canada said Thursday morning.
The fire is 15 kilometres north of Jasper, which has struggled to restore electricity following outages. Officials have said the wildfire currently poses no threat to the town.
During a news availability Thursday morning, Mayor Richard Ireland said the wildfire is still active and anticipated to become more intense in the coming days.
"If the wildfire area does not receive significant rain, further damage to the power supply infrastructure remains a possibility as is a potential wildfire threat to the community."
Environment Canada's forecast for the area predicts a 30 per cent chance of showers Thursday and overnight followed by three days of warm weather.
"The situation remains precarious," Ireland said. "Now is not the time to visit Jasper or Jasper National Park."
The town lost power over the weekend due to the wildfire and Atco has been working since to restore it in phases by transitioning the system to backup generators.
The entire town again briefly lost power Wednesday evening. Early Thursday morning it had been restored to more than 60 per cent of Jasper before experiencing another outage around 9:45 a.m.
"The complexity of integrating generator power into a utility system to a community of this size and scale is extremely challenging," said Amanda Mattern, regional manager for Atco.
"Connecting a generator power system would normally require weeks of engineering design and testing before we would go live."
Mattern said a full evaluation of the transmission infrastructure is still underway. Atco teams are waiting for the area to be deemed safe to enter with escort from Parks Canada and complete a full evaluation.
The town is expected to remain on generator power for weeks. Residents and businesses have been asked to conserve electricity as generator power is not as reliable as the grid.
Katie Ellsworth, a fire management officer with Parks Canada, said even the incident command post was out of power aside from the 911 call centre.
"We would like to echo and reiterate the mayor's message that it's not the time to visit Jasper right now."
Ellsworth said Parks Canada has expanded some area closures to ensure safety and conserve power.
According to a Parks Canada news release, all reservable frontcountry campgrounds are closed — Whistlers, Wapiti, Wabasso and Miette — and a majority of self-registration campgrounds are closed for the season.
The Pyramid Bench area north of the town has also been closed for the installation of a high-volume sprinkler as a proactive measure.
Parks Canada said smoke conditions are expected to pick up and authorities are prepared to use traffic control on Highway 16 if needed. Closing the highway would be a last resort.
Alberta air tankers are being used to put long-term retardant lines on the fire's northeast to restrict its growth, Ellsworth said.
She said the wildfire grew Wednesday during the afternoon peak burning period, although the size estimate remained unchanged.
The situation has impacted Clearwater, B.C., near the Wells Gray Provincial Park, which is southwest of Jasper National Park.
Claire Hanna, the executive director for Tourism Wells Gray, said there have been people at the town's tourist information centre asking for assistance in making alternate plans rather than continue through to Jasper.
"We're finding that either people are staying longer in Clearwater or in the North Thompson Valley, and then also making ultimate plans to divert around the town of Jasper to try and avoid it if they can," she said.
With files from Jenifer Norwell