Jasper to have ‘extended’ power outage as Chetamon Mountain wildfire burns

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The Municipality of Jasper is being warned about the possibility of “extended” power outages as the Chetamon Mountain wildfire continues to impact transmission lines in the national park.

Around 4 a.m. Monday, the out-of-control wildfire in Alberta’s Jasper National Park damaged transmission lines creating a lasting power outage. On Sunday evening, power was lost temporarily as flames burned power lines at the ATCO right-of-way connecting the town.

The town is working toward switching to generator power to ensure critical infrastructure, including the hospital, traffic lights, water wells, and the wastewater treatment facility, remain in service. Utility provider ATCO said power was restored to those essential facilities by 5:20 p.m.

As load capacity is tested, officials say that additional power may be provided to parts of the town in a “staged” approach. Details of that “re-energization” plan are to be provided.

“Residents and visitors should be prepared for an extended outage,” said Richard Ireland, Jasper’s mayor, at a Monday afternoon news conference.

“The wildfire still poses no risk to the Jasper townsite, although at this time, we cannot offer our visitors the full services they would typically expect at this uncertain time,” Ireland added. “In the face of uncertainty, be prepared. I don’t know how long extended might be, and we don’t know yet all of the capacity issues.”

As of Monday afternoon, officials estimated the fire to be between 5,000 to 7,000 hectares, up from 1,500 the previous day, and still 15 to 16 kilometres away from the townsite.

Officials are not considering an evacuation for the wildfire, which was ignited by a lighting strike early Thursday morning.

Fire crews remained optimistic after three to five millimetres of rain fell overnight.

“We do anticipate the size will be variable throughout the coming days,” said Katie Ellsworth, Chetamon wildfire plans section chief.

“The rain did buy us a few days so that we are able to get crews into critical areas of this wildfire and facilitate safe and effective access to our partners at ATCO power so that they are able to repair the power transmission line.”

An emergency reception station was opened at the Jasper Activity Centre Monday morning to act as an information hub and provide charging stations, should emergency generator capacity allow.

“Our crews are working as quickly and safely as possible,” said Amanda Mattern, ATCO electric regional manager. “The safety of our customers and our people is our first priority.

“We will continue to monitor the situation but want to remind residents and visitors to take precautions to stay safe.”

Mattern recommended residents disconnect appliances and electronics during the power outage to prevent any surge damage as power is restored.

The Chetamon Mountain wildfire burns north of the Municipality of Jasper in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains (Supplied).

In addition, she said that residents should only open fridges and freezers “when absolutely necessary,” as they can maintain their internal temperatures for approximately 24 to 36 hours.

The fire has also impacted a Trans Mountain switch for the pipeline extension running through the park. Ellsworth said that fire suppression devices applied held overnight as the wildfire burned near the site.

“We will continue to work with our partners at Trans Mountain to ensure the safety of the pipeline and the community,” Ellsworth added.

A worry for responders is that the wildfire is close to an area of trees that had been affected by previous mountain pine beetle outbreaks. The trees in those areas can accelerate fire growth, Ellsworth said.

“There could be some increases in fire behaviour based on the weather and the fuel condition in the coming days,” she added. “However, we have seen our long-range weather reports, and they all do seem to agree that we are going to see a reduction in overall temperatures.”

Smoke billows from the Chetamon Mountain wildfire that was ignited by a lightning strike Thursday morning (CTV News Edmonton/Alex Antoneshyn).

Residents and visitors to the national park can receive emergency updates by calling 780-852-6540 or follow social media updates posted by the municipality.

Parks Canada will close Wabasso Campground for the season Monday, earlier than expected, due to the power outage and lack of available services to support tourists. Officials indicate Whistlers and Wapiti campgrounds will remain open.

“Though we appreciate your patronage of camping at Jasper National Park, we would encourage you to return in the future when the wildfire situation is resolved,” said Parks Canada in a statement. “Please consider camping elsewhere at this time.”

Any affected reservations will be cancelled automatically, with fees refunded.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Kyra Markov



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