2017 Kenow Fire
A look back at the Kenow Wildfire in Waterton Lakes National Park, September 2017
Information supplied by Parks Canada
On August 30, 2017, after an intense lightning and thunder storm, Parks Canada Fire Management staff in Waterton Lakes National Park detected a wildfire about 10 kilometers from the park boundary, in British Columbia. Exceptionally hot weather, strong winds, and extremely dry conditions fuelled the extreme behavior of the Kenow Wildfire over the next week. Parks Canada worked closely with partner agencies and neighbouring jurisdictions as the fire progressed. Fire crews created fuel line breaks and helicopters dropped water on hotspots to prevent the spread of fire. In addition, fire retardant was sprayed on picnic shelters, washrooms, and other visitor facilities. In the Waterton townsite, high-volume water pumps and sprinkler systems were installed around the edge of the community and trees, shrubs, grasses, and other flammable items were removed from properties. As preparations were underway, an evacuation alert was issued, and on September 8, with hot, dry weather and high winds in the forecast, an evacuation order was issued. The Kenow Wildfire firmly established itself in Waterton Lakes National Park on September 11, 2017, moving northeast down the Cameron Valley along the Akamina Parkway. Later in the evening, flames were visible from the Townsite and on the north side of Crandell Mountain. The wildfire began to move north at a high rate of speed, spreading through the grasslands along the park’s entrance road. Overnight, the wildfire moved north and east out of the park and into adjacent lands. In the end, the wildfire burned 38,000 hectares, including 20,329 hectares in Waterton Lakes National Park. The wildfire had a significant impact on built infrastructure in the park. Akamina Parkway (16 kilometers), Red Rock Parkway (15 kilometers), associated bridges, guardrails, signs, picnic areas and parking areas were affected despite the best efforts of facility protection crews. Much of the hiking trail network has been affected by the Kenow Fire. In addition, the Visitor Centre, Crandell Campground, many buildings at Canyon Youth Camp, the Alpine Stables, staff housing and associated infrastructure such as water and electrical systems were destroyed by the fire.
A hearty thank you and gratitude Heroic efforts by Parks Canada
With the support of fire fighters from agencies across the country and municipal fire departments from nearby communities and the cities of Lethbridge and Calgary, saved the Prince of Wales Hotel National Historic Site and the community of Waterton. We are forever grateful for your courage, your tireless efforts, and for all that you accomplished.
Looking ahead after the fire
This landscape has evolved with fire and will transform over time. Wildfires occur naturally and fulfill critical ecosystem functions, with the positive ecological effects usually greater than the negative. These are dynamic ecosystems, changing and adapting in response to natural forces. This wildfire has removed canopy cover in the park which will provide an opportunity for smaller, ground-based plants to establish. A complete understanding of the impact of this wildfire on the park’s ecology will take many years to assess.
Waterton’s Wildlife after the fire
The Kenow Wildfire was one of exceptional severity. Under less severe circumstances, larger animals are usually able to flee and smaller animals may seek refuge underground. The fire’s rapid growth and heavy smoke unfortunately meant some animals did succumb to the wildfire. However, healthy animals, including elk, deer, moose, bears, and sheep were observed within the area soon after the fire. Waterton’s wildlife have evolved with fire on the landscape and will thrive in Waterton again in the years to come.
Stubborn as a bull
Parks Canada relocated most of the bison herd from Waterton Lakes National Park ahead of the wildfire to keep the animals safe. The bison were gently shepherded into the handling facility and transported by truck to Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan.
One bull did not cooperate during relocation attempts. With the urgency of the fire situation, staff left the bull in a location where it had the best possible chance of survival. The bull survived the incident sheltering near a pond, demonstrating how wildlife have evolved to survive with fire on the landscape.
Parks Canada is hoping to bring bison back once the native grassland recovers, and the handling facility is rebuilt.
There is still lots to do in the park and unique opportunities for visitors to experience Waterton’s natural areas. For a full list of open areas and recreational opportunities, we encourage visitors to check www.parkscanada.gc.ca/waterton for up-to-date information.
Plan your visit ahead of time. Visiting in the spring or fall, weekdays in the summer, or early morning or evening will provide the best opportunity for easier access and less crowding.
Visitor safety is a top priority for Parks Canada. Large areas of the Park remain closed as a result of significant hazards caused by the Kenow wildfire. Information on closed areas can be found at www.parkscanada.gc.ca/waterton. For your safety, respect all area closures.
Kenow Fire Timeline
August 30: A lightning strike ignites a wildfire on Kenow Mountain in British Columbia, close to the park boundary.
September 2: A small 0.5 hectare spot fire starts inside the western boundary of the park.
September 5: An Evacuation Alert is issued for Waterton Lakes National Park.
September 8: An Evacuation Order is issued for Waterton Lakes National Park.
September 9 - Personnel from across Canada, including structural fire crews from regional municipalities, helicopters, fire engines (ladder trucks), water tenders, and facility protection resources are in place in the park.
September 11: The wildfire escapes the park’s boundaries at night. Throughout the night, firefighters worked tirelessly to protect the Waterton townsite and Prince of Wales Hotel National Historic Site within the park.
September 12: Fire suppression continues as the fire is still active.
September 19: The fire is classified as “being held”.
September 20: The public is allowed to enter the park after the Evacuation Order is lifted.
October 3: The Kenow Wildfire is classified as “under control” and “being patrolled”.