Wildfire spreads near iconic Waterton hotel

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The Kenow Fire in Waterton Lakes National Park. (Parks Canada photo)

Alberta’s Kenow Fire expanded Monday due to high winds, torching the Waterton Lakes National Park visitor center and approaching the iconic Prince of Wales hotel as Canadian authorities began evacuating areas north of the park.

The blaze has grown from just 12 acres when it was discovered on Aug. 30 to 28,170 acres, or about 44 square miles. On Sept. 8, Parks Canada evacuated Waterton, citing “a significant public safety risk.” On Monday, the fire entered the park and spread northward, spurring nearby towns to evacuate.

“Overnight, the fire moved north out of the park and into adjacent lands,” Emergency Information Officer Natalie Fay wrote in a press release Tuesday morning. “Local evacuation orders are in effect.”

On Tuesday morning, “the majority of the [park’s] townsite appears to be intact,” Fay said, adding that “extensive fire protection measures were effective in safeguarding the majority of infrastructure and facilities within the community and at the Prince of Wales hotel,” a famous 1920s-era lodge at the north end of Waterton Lake.

The wildfire has also affected the Cameron Valley, the Crandell Mountain area, the Blakiston Valley and grasslands in the north of the park.

“Elsewhere in the park infrastructure has been compromised,” the press release states. Multiple media outlets report that the Waterton visitor center burned in the fire, along with other structures.

Directly north of the park, Pincher Creek has issued a mandatory evacuation notice for all areas south of the Castle Mountain Resort and Highway 505, both about 8 miles from Waterton’s northernmost boundary. It has established a reception center at the town’s Vertical Church.

To the northeast, Cardston County evacuated areas between Waterton and Highway 800, and between the U.S. border and Township 40, asking evacuees to check in at the town’s civic center. The Chief Mountain border crossing, which connects Glacier National Park and Waterton, has also been closed.

Emergency personnel remain inside the evacuated area.

An incoming cold weather front may aid firefighters on both sides of the border in coming days. But in a separate press release, Alberta’s Wildfire Management Branch predicted that, with high winds and temperatures forecast in the area today, “fire danger on September 12 will be very high to extreme.”

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