Much of national park closed due to wildfire smoke

The Rabbit Creek Wildfire in Prince Albert National Park has grown to 24,000 hectares. Smoke from the wildfire has led to closures in many of the publicly accessible parts of the park. -- Photo courtesy Parks Canada

Highway 263 from back gate to the Narrows, Kingsmere area closed as wildfire continues to grow

More closures are coming and additional crews have been called in as a large wildfire continues to rage in the southwest corner of Prince Albert National Park.

The Rabbit Creek Fire had grown 24,000 hectares as of Monday afternoon, and was spewing smoke across the park. Going into the weekend, it was estimated at 17,000 hectares, a 41 per cent increase in size.

Most of the fire growth appears to be on its northern flank. Crews have managed to hold the southern and southwest flanks, where the fire runs along the park boundary, and the boundaries of the RMs of Canwood and Shellbrook.

While much of the park remained open for the long weekend, parks staff announced a bunch of closures due to smoke concerns that would begin this morning.

All backcountry areas in Prince Albert National Park, the area west of the Hanging Heart Lakes turnoff including Kingsmere /Northshore Road, Kingsmere Lake and Kingsmere River have been closed. So has Highway 263 from Narrows Road South to Cookson Road/Highway 240, including all trails and campsites between the Freight trail and the east boundary of the park.

The  closures effect the Sandy lake area, as well as the Height of Land tower and the Spruce River Highlands Trail. The trails around Waskesiu Lake and the Narrows remain open, but most of the rest of the publicly accessible areas remain closed. No timeline has been given on when the closed areas of the park will reopen.

The Sandy Lake and Narrows campgrounds have been placed on a 24-hour evacuation alert.

According to Parks Canada, “ongoing dry and warm weather conditions are contributing to increased fire activity and significant smoke in the area.”

A fire ban remains in place and the west side of the national park remains closed.

Smoke is expected to impact the communities of Waskesiu Lake, Elk Ridge, Montreal Lake and Timber Bay. The situation is likely to continue for the coming days.

A smoke forecast map shows heavy smoke blanketing the area around the national park, and blowing through Prince Albert Tuesday afternoon. Combined with smoke from wildfires in Alberta, as well as in Meadow Lake Provincial Park and north of La Loche, smoke is predicted to stretch from Kindersley in the southwest all the way to Wollaston Lake in the northeast by tomorrow morning, as well as through most of Alberta. The fire is still burning several kilometres away from Waskesiu or the park’s operation centres. At this point, it’s smoke, not fire, that is leading to many of the closures.

This weekend, additional crews from Alberta and Ontario joined the firefighting effort. Parks Canada, Wildfire Saskatchewan and Little Red First Nation, as well as some Albertan crews, had been battling the blaze up until this point.

Provincially, the weekend was kind to local crews, who were finally ably to contain the Rally fire burning near Holbein. As of Monday afternoon, that fire was listed at an estimated size of 2,567 hectares.. Crews had also contained a fire burning a few kilometers northwest of the Rally fire, a 4.3 hectare fire described as having a human cause. That fire began burning Sunday.

Sunday also saw the start of a small, two-hectare fire burning about 30 km east of Prince Albert along Highway 302. That fire is also marked as contained.

Monday afternoon, two uncontained fires remained burning. One was a new fire, listed at 0.5 hectares, burning just west of Candle Lake. The other was the Tuff fire in Meadow Lake Provincial Park. That fire has been burning since May 13, and is currently listed at 6,292 hectares.

So far, there have been 175 provincial fires this year, well ahead of the five-year average of 115. Provincial fire bans for land south of the Churchill River remain in place, as do bans in several rural municipalities, First Nations and in the city north of the river.

The region has received very little rain over the past month, however there was a chance of showers and a thunderstorm Monday evening and into the overnight. By 10 p.m. Monday, a small thunderstorm had rolled through, leaving behind a slight drizzle.