American Wildfire Forces Canadian National Park to Shut Down

The Howe Ridge Fire, one of a number of fires burning in Glacier National Park. The Boundary Fire has forced evacuations in next door Waterton Lakes National Park.
Image: Inciweb

Canada and the U.S. share a lot of things, chief among them a border. To commemorate said border, there’s a peace park that ceremonially joins Glacier National Park in the U.S. and Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada.

But our peaceful relations have been riled up by the hellacious wildfire season. On Thursday, the Boundary Fire ignited in Glacier. The blaze ballooned to 1,250 acres by Friday, and its march threatened Waterton Lakes enough that practically the entire 124,800-acre park has now been evacuated.

“The wildfire was exhibiting extreme behaviour caused by strong winds and dry fuel,” Parks Canada said in a statement on Friday.

The agency said on Friday that it had dispatched helicopters and an attack team in an effort to tamp down the fire, but the efforts have been unsuccessful so far. In its statement, it labeled the status of the fire “out of control.” With the fire’s continued growth largely unchecked, the agency decided it was safer to close the entire park save the townsite area and highways that run briefly through the eastern edge of the park. Those areas remain under an evacuation alert.

This is Waterton Lakes’ second brush with flames in as many years. Last year’s Kenow Fire burned about 40 percent of the park, including 80 percent of the trail network. The park was evacuated last year, which is why visitors were understandably on edge when news of the Boundary Fire ignited south of the park on Thursday.

“Some of them were here last year, so it’s kind of like PTSD for everyone around here from last year’s evacuation,” Jeanne Aldrich, a local innkeeper, told the CBC. “We’re feeling very on alert. I don’t know if anyone got any sleep last night.”

The Boundary Fire is one of a handful burning in Glacier National Park right now. The biggest is the Howe Ridge Fire, which lit up two weeks ago and has since scorched over 10,802 acres while remaining only 10 percent contained. That fire closed portions of Glacier National Park and led to harrowing footage of tourists forced to hastily flee the flames.

And then there’s the bigger picture with fires blazing across western North America. Huge conflagrations in British Columbia turned day into night last week, and Northern California has been burnt to a crisp. This isn’t even the first time this summer national parks have had to close due to dangerous fire conditions.

Climate change has contributed to an uptick in fire-prone conditions across the West by both lengthening the fire season and making large fires more common. You can add ruining vacations to the growing list of impacts, too.

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