"A SLEEPING GIANT"
On the afternoon of July 9, more than a week after a lightning storm in Jasper’s Maligne Valley, hot, dry conditions helped bring a smouldering fire in the Excelsior Creek area to life.
Soon after smoke was reported by passing aircraft, Parks Canada Wildlife Guardians confirmed to fire officials that trees were candling and flames were shooting into the sky.
“The dry conditions woke a sleeping giant,” said Parks Canada’s fire and vegetation specialist, Dave Smith.
The response was immediate—because of the extreme fire hazard, Jasper National Park’s Initial Attack crew was at the ready—but only minutes after the call came in, the crew determined from a helicopter that the fire was already too big to be suppressed from the ground.
“As soon as they got over the ridge they determined it was outside of IA’s capability,” Smith said.
The fire was not spreading toward town, but rather up the Maligne Valley. Parks Canada’s priority shifted to moving people out.
“It became clear that this was a fast-moving, intense fire,” Smith said. “Everything had to be sped up.”
More than 1,000 day users and nearly 60 backcountry users—spread out along Jasper’s most popular backcountry trail, The Skyline—needed to be evacuated from the area.
What came next was a heroic effort in coordination and collaboration, Smith said.
“I have never felt so proud of so many people for how well this went,” he said. “I have never seen something of this magnitude go off with so little glitches.”
July 9, 3:30 p.m.
Fire reported by aircraft; confirmed by Parks Canada staff.
Parks Canada staff begin to drive up road to alert motorists and move them out of the valley.
Jasper RCMP set up road block and begin traffic control at junction of Moberly Bridge and Hwy 16. RCMP will be bolstered by officers from Edson and Hinton detachments.
Jasper Visitor Safety staff get list of hikers and campers on Skyline Trail, Maligne Lake and Jacques Lake campgrounds from Information Centre staff.
Maligne Tours and Parks Canada work together to prioritize high-priority visitors (elderly, disabled) for helicopter evacuation.
Smoke can be seen from the Jasper townsite. IA crew reports 200m-high flames and “spotting out” (new fires ignited in front of main blaze).
Parks Canada Visitor Safety staff begin sweeps along Skyline Trail using helicopters, ATVs and mountain bikes to ensure no one is missed.
One hiker in Jacques Lake makes his way to the trailhead; a second hiker at the campground is flown out via helicopter.
Fire comes within 150m of the road at the north end of Medicine Lake.
Community Outreach Services begins taking in evacuees. Fire fighters and Jasper RCMP officers, along with COS and Jasper Victim Services Unit staff and volunteers, help process more than 50 people who have been airlifted to SunDog Tour Company shuttles waiting along Hwy 93. Evacuees are assisted with finding meals and accommodations for the night. Jasper townsfolk offer their suites and backyards to grateful victims.
Parks Canada closes the road and asks evacuees to wait at the lake’s south end.
Fire crosses the road at the north end of Medicine Lake.
Campers at Maligne Lake are asked to stay at their campsites for the evening and to paddle back the following morning for evacuation.
Forty cars waiting at south end of Medicine Lake can be escorted through to Jasper.
12 a.m., July 10
All day users are out of the Maligne Valley; all hikers and campers are accounted for.