If conditions allow, Parks Canada fire management staff plan to light 2,200 hectares in the Eskerine Complex Prescribed Fire Area in Waterton Lakes National Park, today, using aerial ignition devices. The prescribed fire area is between Bellevue Hill, the Bison Paddock, Waterton River and Lower Waterton Lakes and the Red Rock Road. Parks Canada fire crews including fire management specialists, and three helicopters will assist Waterton Lakes with this prescribed fire.
This prescribed fire will help to restore and maintain historical fire frequency, while protecting people and facilities from wildfires. Restoring fire is important to the health of the ecosystem, including the wildlife it supports. Historic photographs show that fire suppression has allowed trees to encroach on park grasslands, with as much as 30 per cent of grasslands lost over the last 100 years. This prescribed fire will restore fire to the landscape, reduce the advance of trees and shrubs onto the native fescue grasslands and promote natural restoration of this ecosystem. Parks Canada last burned this area in 2014.
Safety is a top priority for Parks Canada. The prescribed fire will only proceed if the necessary environmental and weather conditions are forecasted. Fire control will be maintained using trained and experienced Parks Canada fire management staff. Those in the general vicinity of the fire may see smoke.
- Heavy smoke and flames may be visible from a distance. Smoke from the Eskerine grasslands may be visible from Highway 5 and Highway 6 or the Entrance Road.
- Smoke may settle overnight and into the morning. There is a possibility that smoke may drift to areas adjacent to the park.
- Parks Canada staff will monitor Highways 5 and 6 and the Entrance Road for visibility and traffic congestion. A temporary reduced speed limit zone will be implemented if necessary. Motorists will be informed that a prescribed fire is in progress and asked not to stop for safety reasons.
- An area closure will be in place for safety reasons during the prescribed fire which will include the Red Rock Parkway – while already closed to vehicular traffic for the season it will also be closed to pedestrians, cyclists, etc; Bison Paddock Drive and Bison Paddock Viewpoint Trail; Maskinonge Lookout; and the Hay Barn Road.
Fire is a component of healthy grasslands – it renews the ecosystem by reducing fuel, releasing nutrients and allowing for a mosaic of ecosystems that support diverse plants and wildlife. Planning for prescribed fires takes into consideration precautions necessary to contain the fire within the prescribed fire boundary.
Many of the ecosystems within national parks are fire adapted. In these ecosystems, fire helps maintain forest health and biodiversity. Parks Canada uses carefully planned prescribed fire to safely restore and maintain this important ecological process.
Prescribed fires do important work that pays dividends for decades. For example, they help maintain good habitat for many large mammals, particularly elk, moose, sheep, deer, wolves and bears. Prescribed fire also helps control populations of insects such as mountain pine beetle and reduces the threat of wildfire to communities and neighbouring lands.
A prescribed fire is an intentional fire planned and managed by fire specialists. A “prescription” describes the conditions and procedures necessary to burn safely and effectively.
Parks Canada’s fire specialists take into account weather, type of vegetation, moisture levels, terrain, anticipated fire behavior and more when writing a prescription. They define the boundary of the fire using natural barriers, such as cliffs and wetlands, combined with other features, such as roads and constructed fuel breaks made by people. Finally, the team outlines the conditions under which the prescription can be used. When these conditions are met, the team is ready for action.