UPDATE: Park officials said the fire is currently located in the southwest corner of Prince Albert National Park, along the border of Rabbit Creek. Fire management staff started a prescribed burn in the southwest part of the park May 4, but officials said the fire blew out of control due to un-forecasted high winds in the area.
David Britton, the national park’s superintendent, said the park had a contingency plan in place and called in national-level resources once the fire began to spread out of control.
“We do prescribed fires in the park for ecological and restoration reasons to restore rare fescue grasslands in that area and have done a number of prescribed burns in that area in previous years,” he said. "On May 4, we had the appropriate weather and environmental conditions to carry out a prescribed fire and at that time there were no fire bans in the area.”
Dean MacDonald, incident commander on the fire, said the cooler weather has slowed the progress of the Rabbit Fire. Ground patrols are working to stop the fire and helicopters are in the air, dropping water at the site and on hot spots.
MacDonald said crews had the fire about 30 per cent contained Thursday.
“The next perimeter we’re working on is to contain this fire to very close to the current size,” he added.
MacDonald said crews from the park, the province, Little Red First Nation and Alberta have been working on the wildfire, and reinforcements are coming from Ontario this week as well. About 125 people are working to contain the wildfire with 40 more expected to arrive over the coming days, he said.
“This fire was burning under forest conditions where everything was burning; it happens very rarely where all fuel types burn," MacDonald said. "Typically, an Aspen stand will actually hold off fire and reduce the spread. Under these significant wind conditions we’ve had, everything was burning at the same rate."
On Thursday, the fire was approximately 40 kilometres away from the townsite of Waskesiu, and Britton said there was no danger to residents or businesses in the town. As the long weekend approaches, Britton said the park will be open for business as usual, although he cautioned that a fire ban remains in place for the area.
Park officials are also suggesting drivers in the area enter Waskesiu off Highway 2 rather than taking the scenic route to avoid smoke from the fire. Trails near the fire are also closed, Britton added.
“The large majority of the park is open and perfectly safe for people to visit,” he added. “There are no risks to people coming to the park."
A fire inside the Prince Albert National Park continues to burn, though officials say the recent cool, cloudy weather has helped firefighting efforts.
The wildfire, which has been named the 'Rabbit Fire' by officials, is burning inside the national park with some spot fires on provincial land south and west of park boundaries. On Thursday morning, Parks Canada said the Rabbit Fire was just under 17,000 hectares in size, or 170 square kilometres.
Officials said the fire showed little growth overnight Wednesday, mainly due to the cooler weather.
Park officials said helicopters are dropping buckets of water on the fire and extinguishing hot spots. Provincial air tankers are providing support on the western portion of the fire to prevent further growth.
Parks Canada said more information will be provided later in the day Thursday, but said support is coming from the province and from Alberta. Parks Canada staff said they have been in contact with neighbouring landowners and community members to keep them updated on the situation.
On Twitter: @CharleneTebbutt
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