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Crews continue battle with wildfire, Jasper relying on generator power

One of the more than 125 firefighters on the ground fights the blaze in difficult terrain. | Parks Canada photo

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter | reporter@fitzhugh.ca

The second week of the Chetamon Wildfire saw much activity and some successes.

Although the fire itself is still considered to be out of control, it has grown minimally over the last several days, reaching 5,900 hectares as of Tuesday.

More than 125 firefighting personnel and nine helicopters have been working to hold the fire’s perimeter. Alberta Wildfire has supported the effort by providing airtankers for evaluation and fire suppression. They made several successful retardant drops in various areas along the edges of the wildfire, but those operations also created intermittent smoke along Highway 16.

Parks Canada’s Tuesday update also announced that firefighters were locking in the north and south ends of the wildfire.

“Cooler temperatures and lighter winds have allowed firefighting personnel to safely work at the head of the fire, securing the perimeter and extinguishing spot fires and hot spots,” the release read.

Both of those have led Parks Canada to determine that the high-volume sprinkler system and other extensive fire contingency measures are no longer needed. That sprinkler along with others installed at the wastewater treatment plant, the Palisades Stewardship Education Centre and Snaring Campground were set to be dismantled.

ATCO has started the process of rebuilding 18 damaged transmission structures and power lines. It has been able to restore electricity to much of the town, though not without the assistance of numerous businesses and key sites using generators to lower the burden on the grid. 

All residents and businesses are still asked to do their part by conserving as much energy as possible, because the situation is still precarious, especially with all of those generators in the mix.

“The biggest challenge is building a system with equipment from various vendors and getting all those controls to communicate with each other without tripping the system,” said Amanda Mattern, regional manager with ATCO Electric.

“Connecting a generator power system would normally require months of engineering design and testing before we would go live. Instead, we’re really working through that coordination of these technicalities while trying to restore power to town. That is the biggest challenge we’re faced with.”

This generator system is complex and is not as reliable as the transmission system, which may lead to intermittent power outages.

If residents or businesses are still without power, they are encouraged to call ATCO at 1-800-668-5506 or fill out an online form found linked on its website at https://electric.atco.com/en-ca.html.

To help ease the draw on the grid, Parks Canada has temporarily closed the Snaring, Wapiti and Whistlers campgrounds until at least Sept 26. 

“While we typically welcome visitors with open arms, now is not the ideal time to visit Jasper,” said Mayor Richard Ireland. “We cannot provide reliable, stable power. The Chetamon wildfire remains active with potential to evolve rapidly. Any visitors who can change their travel plans are strongly recommended to do so.”

As part of the continuing and concerted effort, Parks Canada is felling hundreds of potentially dangerous trees that are burnt and unstable along the power line and roads. A fire-damaged bridge is also being replaced.

The weather was mainly dry and hot over the weekend, with some gusty winds that threatened to fan the fire outside of its current position. Milder temperatures were in the forecast for this week, with some precipitation expected.

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