Skip to content

Prescribed fire to restore grizzly bear, whitebark pine habitat

“During operations, the public can expect to see flames, smoke, firefighting equipment and fire crews working in the area."
A helicopter ignites a prescribed fire in the Lake Minnewanka area.
In 2018, a helicopter ignites a prescribed fire in the Lake Minnewanka area. RMO file photo

LAKE LOUISE – A major prescribed fire is set to get underway in the Alexandra Valley in the northwest reaches of Banff National Park.

Parks Canada is taking advantage of favourable conditions for the 1,571-hectare (3,882 acres) prescribed fire, which aims to restore the historic fire cycle to the Alexandra River Valley, enhance habitat for grizzly bears and restore habitat for endangered whitebark pine.

“During operations, the public can expect to see flames, smoke, firefighting equipment and fire crews working in the area,” said Kelsey Eade, fire communications officer for Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay field unit in a release.

“Helicopter bucketing may also take place. This is all part of normal prescribed fire operations.”

The prescribed fire, which is expected to get underway as early as today (Aug. 18), will take place in the Alexandra River Valley, west of the Icefields Parkway and seven kilometres east of the B.C.-Alberta border and Banff National Park boundary.

Alberta’s fire hazard ranges from high to extreme. In Banff National Park, the fire conditions are rated extreme.

However, James Eastham, a spokesperson for Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay, said the current conditions in the Alexandra prescribed fire area fall within the criteria listed in the Alexandra prescribed fire plan.

“Although most of Banff National Park is currently hot and dry, the climate in the Alexandra River Valley is currently posing less risk and has less extreme fire danger ratings than the rest of Banff National Park,” he said.

Eade said the prescribed fire will only go ahead if specific conditions are met, such as the right weather, vegetation moisture and supporting resources.

“If conditions are not met, the prescribed fire will be rescheduled," she said.

Apart from preliminary work that had been done on this project in 2020 to help secure the boundaries of the prescribed fire, the Alexandra River Valley hasn’t experienced a fire in approximately 280 years. Historically, fire would rejuvenate this landscape every 100-150 years.

During the prescribed fire operation, Castleguard Meadows backcountry campsite, Alexandra River Trail and Coleman Flats day use area are all closed for public safety.

The Icefields Parkway and other Parks Canada facilities will remain open.

Eade said Parks Canada fire specialists make every effort to limit smoke during prescribed fire operations.

“The Alexandra prescribed fire will only go ahead if conditions allow smoke to disperse into the atmosphere,” she said.

“However, unpredicted changes in weather can increase and redirect smoke. Be prepared for potential delays and reduced visibility on sections of the Icefields Parkway.”

People with respiratory conditions or severe smoke sensitivities can be notified before prescribed fires occur. To be added to a smoke-sensitive list, please contact our Fire Information Officer at feullyk-llykfire@pc.gc.ca or 250-341-4011.

A fire ban is still in place for visitors to Banff National Park. Prescribed fires, ignited by trained Parks Canada professionals, fall outside of the fire ban.

“Fire specialists adhere to conditions outlined in each specific prescribed fire plan and have appropriate resources available to safely complete operations,” Eade said.

For information and updates, consult the important bulletins at: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/banff/bulletins.