Researchers and Parks Canada disagree about potential “mega fire” in Jasper National Park

Jasper, Alberta By Ryanshepherd/Wikimedia Commons

Two researchers have accused Parks Canada of being woefully unprepared for a potential “mega fire” in Jasper National Park.

Ken Hodges and Emile Begin, who are both registered foresters, have reached out to both Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland and Parks Canada to warn against an impending disaster. The two researchers believe that a combination for fire suppression and damage caused by the mountain pine beetle have created the perfect environment for a serious fire that could threaten the park and the nearby town.

Furthermore, they do not believe Parks Canada is prepared to deal with such an event.

According to local paper The Fitzhugh, Hodges and Begin wrote a letter to Jasper’s mayor saying that, based on the reaction they saw to last year’s fire in Waterton Lakes National Park, Parks Canada is “unlikely able to address any mega fire situation arising that would ensure public safety (sic). Evidence confirms National Parks have not done their homework.”

Hodges reiterated this worry on CBC’s Radio Active last week:

“You’ve got a major catastrophe on your hands if you get a match thrown into that. If you do not reduce the fuel, then you’re leaving a fire that might burn similar to what happened in Waterton.”

The two researchers insist that the situation is a question of when, not if, and are encouraging Parks Canada to take measures to ensure they can manage such an occurrence. The agency, for its part, believes it is quite capable of handling the situation.

“We’re quite comfortable with where we are with our own emergency planning and evacuation planning,” Jasper National Park superintendent Alan Fehr said last week.

“We have fire guards that were established 10 or 15 years ago, and some of those fireguards we’re constantly working on. We’re constantly trying to learn and improve and respond to conditions and the change in vegetation over time.”

He added that the park follows FireSmart, which is a program that helps reduce the amount of damage caused by forest fires. As part of the program, park officials have been reducing forest fuel and removing mountain pine beetle-affected trees.

Jasper National Park spokesperson Steve Young told The Fitzhugh that in addition to the FireSmart strategies, which have been in place since 2003, the park will also be conducting several prescribed fires this spring.

“The safety of the public and staff, neighbouring communities, and park infrastructure is always the Agency’s top priority.”

Begin and Hodges agree that following FireStart procedures could be a start.

“Planning and praying won’t get you very far,” Begin told the CBC. “[But] planning will get you started.”

While the two are confident that their concerns are well placed, they added that they’d much prefer to have gotten this wrong.

“The potential that’s out there is actually scary,” said Hodges.

Hopefully their concerns turn out to be much ado about nothing — and hopefully Parks Canada is as prepared as it claims to be.

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