Smoke is in the air and that means there’s a fire burning somewhere.
So when you live in a location like the Bow Valley, surrounded by pine and spruce forests, you can’t help but be a bit nervous as the air takes on a dusty tinge and smell. The carpet of green trees that is the backdrop to our lives is also a source of fuel for a wildfire.
Last summer, the Verdant Creek wildfire on the other side of the border in B.C. in Kootenay National Park poured smoke into the Bow Valley and set residents and businesses on edge due to the risk that the fire could cross the Continental Divide and threaten our communities.
We know, if there is smoke, there must also be a fire.
So when a thunderstorm rolls through the Canadian Rockies and sets off multiple lightning-sparked blazes throughout the region, we as residents affected expect to have information about what is happening, where it is happening and what is being done about it.
Providing information about wildfires is pretty straightforward. Alberta Wildfire’s website provides important details about wildfires – like how they were caused, location and size.
The B.C. Wildfire Service provides a comprehensive overview of each fire on its interactive online map. They provide the public with information about how the fire is being fought, and what types of equipment are on scene.
But large areas of public land that cross the border of B.C. and Alberta lie within national parks and come under the jurisdiction of Parks Canada for response. We know Parks Canada has competent and capable wildfire response capabilities – they are ready to respond at all times to reports of wildfire on the landscape.
But when it comes to providing the same level of detail as other agencies to the media and the public about wildfires, Parks Canada has been lagging. Some may recall how difficult it was to get details about the size of the Verdant Creek fire.
As we hear of a complex of fires on Wardle Mountain in Kootenay National Park and a blaze burning east of Lake Louise, we can’t help, as residents of this valley and as a news organization, but ask for and expect information about what is going on.
It cannot be stressed enough how important having detailed, factual and timely information on public safety is to the residents of the Bow Valley. As a public agency, Parks Canada has a responsibility to be responsive to the needs of our communities to understand the situation.
We hope the powers that be (we assume they are in Ottawa) are listening, because the ability to provide this kind of information easily and in a timely manner exists and can be demonstrated by looking at other agency’s websites and online interactive maps.
It looks like someone might be listening within the organization, because we are told that by the end of the day (Wednesday, Aug. 1) there would be a dedicated webpage on the Kootenay National Park website to provide detailed information into the future.
These situations can be complex and dynamic and we want firefighters to be focused on the task at hand. But it is not unreasonable to expect, as residents of the Bow Valley, to know about and understand the wildfire situation on a daily basis.
We are grateful to see this website, at the very least, and would encourage Parks to consider stepping up its game in the future when it comes to wildfire communication systems.