Jasper’s power situation could remain unstable for weeks due to damage from wildfires

Jasper's power situation could remain unstable for weeks due to damage from wildfires

The town of Jasper had further power outages on Friday and it could be weeks before electricity supplies are stable again due to the complex challenges of running a community this size of generators.

The community was cut off from the grid last weekend when the Chetamon bushfire damaged transmission lines in the east of the mountain town.

“As ATCO works to restore power to all segments of the community through generators, the technical complexity and load limitations of the temporary generators have become increasingly apparent,” Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland said on Friday.

“The situation remains precarious.”

As indicated in recent days, the municipality expects the periodic outages to continue in the coming weeks.

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The outage has affected critical services and Ireland said the community and Parks Canada are working together on a short to medium term emergency plan to ensure essential services such as fuel and food and supermarkets remain available.

“To reduce the load and power more parts of the community, the municipality has gone back to operating our wastewater treatment plant with its own backup generator capacity.”

Everyone involved emphasized the complexity of integrating generator power into a utility system as large as the one in Jasper.

“We still do not have reliable, consistent generator power supplied by ATCO and current power to the community will be diverted to the wastewater treatment plant if necessary,” Ireland said.

Generator power is not as reliable as the transmission system and there are many factors that can affect the system.

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The biggest challenge is building a system with equipment from different vendors and making sure all the controls can communicate with each other without tripping the whole thing, ATCO said.

Getting a generator power system up and running would normally require weeks of engineering, design and testing before it goes live, the utility said.

“As we respond to the crisis to support the city, we need to coordinate these technical details on the ground with our team of experts to help stabilize the electricity system.”

The power company said it is not yet known how long it will take to repair the transmission lines as crews have not yet been able to inspect them due to the fire, but warned it could take several weeks depending on the extent of the damage.

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ATCO Electrical said a further update on the power situation would come later Friday.

Anne-Claude Pépin, chief of Chetamon’s wildfire plans division for Parks Canada, said crews on the ground and in the air are attacking the fire from multiple sides, and it has only grown by about 100 acres to 5,600 acres in the past day.

The BC government provides fire support and a crew of 20 arrived Thursday to assist.

Alberta Wildfire air tankers were able to make two successful slowing drops on the north side of the wildfire on Thursday thanks to low winds.

“This makes for safer helicopter operations, but can also cause smoke along Highway 16,” an update said on Friday.

Pépin said the cooler weather conditions on Thursday and Friday are perfect for making progress. There is still potential for “spotting” and wildfire spreads further upstream along the Snaring River.

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Fire guards have been built outside the city and high-volume sprinklers have been installed, which have already been tested once and may be available again on Friday.

“They produce an enormous amount of water. It would be like, if they run, 30 millimeters of rain per hour. That creates a bubble that might look like smoke, but it’s not – it’s water and we’re just testing our system.”

Pepin said the crews didn’t expect to have to use them to protect the city, but the sprinklers are ready just in case. As has been the case since the fire started a week ago, no communities are at risk.

The weather forecast for the weekend will see dry and hot temperatures and strong winds on Sunday. Parks Canada said this could intensify fire behavior and increase the growth of wildfires over the weekend.

That combination can make conditions unsafe for firefighters on the fire perimeter, making suppressing aircraft the only direct way to slow the spread.

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The predicted winds could push the smoke into the city and spread the fire south.

Parks Canada said the higher temperatures over the weekend could lead to more smoky conditions around Highway 16, but Pépin said it would only close if absolutely necessary.

While Miette Hot Springs and the Columbia Icefields will not be affected, Parks Canada and the Municipality of Jasper can only provide essential services in the city and surrounding areas.

As has been the case throughout the week, visitors are being told to stay out of town for now.

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