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No state of local emergency required yet: municipality

The Chetamon wildfire is now approximately 5,600 hectares. No communities are at risk of wildfire at this time. | Alberta Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development photo

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

“Now is not the time to visit Jasper.”

That same message has been repeated by Mayor Richard Ireland, officials from Parks Canada and Christine Nadon, the director of the municipality’s Emergency Coordination Centre. 

While there is intermittent power to the homes in town and ATCO is striving 24/7 to establish a full and permanent reenergization, Jasper has yet to declare a state of local emergency.

Jasper isn’t at that threshold at present, officials say, nor does it need to be evacuated.

“As long as we can keep critical infrastructure going, as long as we have water, wastewater emergency services, we don’t see a need to evacuate the community,” Nadon said.

“That is our main priority along with restoring power to residents, of course.”

While many neighbourhoods have seen power come and go, some residences went totally without any electricity for more than 60 hours. Critical infrastructure sites such as the hospital have priority over the power supply. The municipality has also resorted to putting the wastewater treatment facility, still considered a critical infrastructure site, onto its own generator as a way of helping ATCO get the rest of the town to come back onto the grid.

During Friday’s press briefing on the wildfire, Mayor Richard Ireland said that even that might change. 

“We are still without reliable, consistent generator power supplied by ATCO, and current power to the community will be redirected to the wastewater treatment plant if required,” Ireland said.

“Additionally, if power demand exceeds capacity, we will be required to make decisions to limit demand to ensure critical services can be supportive.” 

The Chetamon wildfire is now considered to be 5,600 hectares in size and is still being held approximately 16 kilometres from the townsite. Parks Canada received 25 more firefighters on the ground, while the helicopters continued their water drops.

Alberta Wildfire’s airtankers continue to conduct evaluation and fire suppression flybys, completing two successful fire retardant drops on the north end of the wildfire on Thursday thanks to low winds. 

A large-scale high-volume sprinkler system is now in place on the Fire Guard area and has already received some testing. It produces an equivalent of 30 millimeters of rain in less than an hour.

The forecast is for clear skies and hot mid-20 C temperatures this weekend, coupled with some high winds, but firefighting work remains far from over.

ATCO’s work is in the same precarious predicament. 

None of that, however, means a state of local emergency.

“As long as we can continue providing critical services, which we have a good level of confidence that we can… between our municipal generator power, private generators, and then the support and equipment from ATCO that’s on site in Jasper right now, we’re pretty confident most Jasperites can stay in their homes,” Nadon said.

Nadon added that there is still running water from faucets and the sewer system is still operational.

“I think people just see this emergency, we are stressing how it is an emergency situation, this is not a small event – what I mean by that is the power outage combined with the wildfire,” she said.

“This is the largest wildfire we’ve seen on the landscape and Jasper in years, and we need to be ready at a moment’s notice to take action on that. It’s a serious situation, but we are not considering an evacuation process at this time.”

In the face of all of the pressures of the wildfire, the finicky return to full reenergization and continued tourism placing more power demands on the municipality’s power grid, Ireland repeated his message.

“While we typically welcome visitors with open arms, this is not the ideal time to visit Jasper.”

A full message from the municipality can be found at jasper-alberta.com/p/chetamon-wildfire.

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