A wildfire in Jasper National Park which started after a black bear cub climbed a power pole and was electrocuted is now under control.
On Saturday, June 3, at 4:40 p.m., Parks Canada staff reported smoke between Highway 93A and the Athabasca River, approximately 10 kilometres south of the Jasper townsite. The location is near Portal Creek.
Two helicopters and three Initial Attack fire crews were able to get on the fire immediately, said Janelle Verbruggen, communications officer with Parks Canada. The location of the fire was accessible from the road and close to a water supply.
The cause of the fire was likely an ATCO Electric power line which was damaged when a black bear cub climbed a power pole. The bear was discovered near the pole, having been electrocuted. The site of the dead bear is where the fire started.
ATCO Electric technicians were made aware of the fire near the company’s power line. That 25kV portion of the line serves Marmot Basin, Wabasso Campground and the Cavell Warden Station. It also connects the Astoria Hydro Station to the grid.
ATCO staff responded to the site and disconnected power to the lines in the area, according to an ATCO spokesperson.
“Once the fire was addressed, our team patrolled the line to make sure it was safe to turn the power back on and that is when they discovered the bear,” ATCO said in a statement emailed to The Jasper Local.
The fire grew to approximately 1.7 hectares—approximately the size of three football fields—before it was contained. The fire was “being held” on June 4 and on June 5 was considered “under control.” Crews are currently working to extinguish remaining hot spots within the perimeter of the fire, according to Parks Canada.
“It’s still smouldering,” Verbruggen said. “Crews will continue to patrol the perimeter until there is no further threat of fire.”
The fire began while the fire danger rating in Jasper National Park was “high.” The current fire danger rating (as of June 6) is “very high.”
“Very high means fires can ignite easily and they can be hard to control,” Verbruggen said.
ATCO Electric said the pole at the location where the bear was found was from 1987, and was likely installed within a two-to-three-year timeframe from that date. The company spokesperson said poles are built to the standard of the day.
“Although the design measures and precautions reduce probability it is extremely cost prohibitive/difficult to design and build a system to mitigate all risks such as this—both to wildlife and the fire risk,” the spokesperson said.
ATCO has installed some of its lower voltage distribution lines in Jasper National Park underground—such as on the Maligne Lake Road this past winter. This mitigation work reduces the risk of tree-caused outages.
CN Right of Way fire
Another, smaller wildfire was discovered nine kilometres east of the Jasper townsite on the CN right of way on June 1.
That afternoon, a member of the public alerted Parks Canada to smoke near Snaring Overflow Campground. Wildfire specialists discovered a 0.2 hectare fire between the railway and Highway 16, north of the campground and south of Morrow Bridge. They used an 800 gallon water trailer to douse the fire.
“The cause is still under investigation,” Verbruggen said.
Verbruggen said Parks Canada works with rail companies to reduce the risk of wildfires.
“CN rail grinding crews alert Parks Canada when they are operating, for example,” she said.
Track or rail grinding is done by a vehicle or train to restore the profile of and remove irregularities from worn rail track to extend its life and to improve the ride of trains using the track. In 2017 in British Columbia, CN elected to halt all track grinding during the peak wildfire season.
The Jasper Local asked CN what mitigations are in effect to reduce the risk of wildfires from operations such as rail grinding. CN said rail grinding is a routine operation that has built-in safety measures.
Those measures include side deflectors installed on the train, water trucks and response crews on site, observance of local weather and fire risk levels, and communications with local authorities as required, a media relations staffer said.
“All field employees monitor trains as they pass looking for any issues and additional clearance of vegetation along the right of way to minimize the risk of fire,” the spokesperson said.
Parks Canada reminds the public to keep campfires small and to attend any campfires at all times. Campfires must be extinguished completely with water until they are cool to the touch. Members of the public are required to purchase a fire permit before using the fire pits in road-accessible campgrounds, Verbruggen said.
Illegal campfires can be reported to Jasper Dispatch, 780-852-6155.
Verbruggen said wildfires are a natural process and that through Parks Canada’s national fire management program, the agency is committed to reducing the risk of wildfire and its impacts as well as restoring forest health and biodiversity. Visit Parks Canada’s webpage for more information on wildfire updates and alerts.
Bob Covey // firstname.lastname@example.org