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Fort Macleod and district residents respond to wildfire crisis at Waterton

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Fort Macleod and district residents opened their homes, farms and ranches Tuesday to people and livestock displaced by a wildfire that doubled in size overnight to about 20,000 hectares.
That generosity of spirit didn’t surprise Premier Rachel Notley.
“In situations like this Albertans don’t hesitate to step up and offer help,” Notley said Tuesday during a news conference.
The raging Kenow wildfire prompted officials on Friday to evacuate Water Lakes National Park.
The Kenow fire established itself in Waterton Lakes National Park Monday afternoon, northeast down Cameron Valley along Akamina Parkway.
Overnight, the fire moved north out of the park and into adjacent lands.
As of noon Tuesday more than 500 people who live in the Waterton townsite, Cardston County, the Blood Reserve and MD of Pincher Creek were on mandatory evacuation.
Evacuation centres are at the Vertical Church in Pincher Creek, Cardston Civic Centre and Stand Off Multipurpose Building.
Cardston County and the MD of Pincher Creek declared local states of emergency and put residents on evacuation alert.
People were active on social media Tuesday with offers to house people forced out of their homes by the fire. Others offered pasture and corrals for cattle and horses, and the use of trailers to haul them.
Fort Macleod resident Kristi Edwards started the Facebook page “Waterton and Area Fire Evacuation Help” to consolidate those offers of help.
The Fort Macleod Fire Department is rotating crews at Waterton. They are among 45 firefighters protecting structures from fire. As of noon Tuesday all structures were intact inside the townsite but some outside, including the visitors’ centre, were destroyed. There are 17 fire trucks in the townsite.
Inside Waterton Lakes National Park there are 135 firefighters, nine air tankers and 14 helicopters battling the Kenow wildfire. Alberta Forestry also an additional 125 firefighters and 23 helicopters on standby.
“from the bottom of my heart, I’d like to thank the first responders who are working around the clock to fight this blaze,” Notley said. “We owe an incredible debt of gratitude.”
Bernie Schmitte, a forest manager with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, was unable to provide the extent of damage done by the fire outside the park.
“We do know that there has been some damage but we don’t know the extent of it at this time,” Schmitte said. “It’s very difficult to get over the area because of smoke and wind conditions.”
Schmitte told reporters the nine planes and 14 helicopters are working at the edges of the fire.
“The aircraft are working the very edge of the fire, perimeter of the fire, so they’re knocking down the flames that are advancing,” Schmidt said. “What this does, it gives our ground crews the opportunity to get in, in a safe manner.”
Forecasts call for cooler temperatures with the possibility of rain this week.
“It is going to help us in our firefighting efforts,” Schmitte said.
Until then, firefighters are at the mercy of the wind as it determines the direction in which the fire will move.

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