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Prescribed fire temporarily closes highway

The smoky aftermath of a prescribed fire near the Jasper airfield on May 4. | P.Shokeir photo

Peter Shokeir |

Smoke from the prescribed fire reduced visibility and closed a section of Highway 16 for several hours north of Jasper on May 3.

The highway was temporarily closed in both directions at about 1:15 p.m. with the road opening to single-lane alternating escorted traffic as conditions improved or changed.

By 7:15 p.m., the highway was able to fully reopen in both directions.

Fire management specialists were completing the remaining 300 hectares of the Henry House prescribed fire, approximately 13 kilometres northeast of the Jasper townsite.

“Although the fire remained within our planned containment areas, strong westerly winds created spot fires across the highway into grassland near the Jasper airfield,” Parks Canada said in a statement.

The burned area around the airfield was estimated at 100 hectares.

Ground crews were able to quickly respond and suppress these fires with the assistance of helicopter bucketing.

Parks Canada said the fire had been classified as “being held” and was never out of control.

“Parks Canada ensured the public, our crews and infrastructure were protected; the safety of the public is always our number one priority.”

While most of the burned area is expected to self-extinguish, aided by a forecasted downtrend in weather, fire crews will be busy extinguishing any remaining hotspots adjacent to Highway 16 over the next few days and continue monitoring the area.

Monitoring and clean-up activities will then extend for several days following the burn.

“Extensive planning was completed to prepare for this prescribed fire,” Parks Canada added.

“Planning for prescribed fire includes outlining specific conditions – weather, forest fuel, firefighting equipment and personnel – necessary to safely meet the objectives of the project.”

The Henry House area was originally burned in 1988 and later reburned in 2008 to restore rare open montane grassland.

Parks Canada stated that fires were necessary to reduce the risk of wildfire to communities and improve forest health, as historical fire suppression has caused a significant decline in ecosystem health and diversity of species within the mountain national parks.

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