Over the years we have learnt to expect just about any conditions on our workshops, like hot temperatures, heavy rain and hail or even snow, but we have never experienced a forest fire before. In the evening of July 3, the first evening of the workshop, we experienced a brief thunderstorm that really didn’t do much around the lodge, but unknown to us at the time, a lightening strike near the Banff National Park boundary about 30 km east of Aurum Lodge sparking what is now referred to as the Spreading Creek Wildfire.
We didn’t know that there was a forest fire till Friday afternoon when we were driving back to the lodge after spending a great morning photographing the Brazeau Collieries mine site in Nordegg. We could see some really impressive orange coloured clouds billowing over the top of Elliot Peak just to the southwest of Aurum Lodge. We stopped at a couple of places to photograph the clouds.
On the Saturday, our curiosity got the best of us and we drove toward the fire area on Highway 11. The fire was on the other side of the North Saskatchewan River from the highway and only around 500 ha in size at that time. We watched as a couple of helicopters were picking up buckets of water from the river and dropping them on the fire, which was neat. From a photographic perspective, we were a little disappointed that we could only see a small amount of fire, but there was lots of smoke.
We went back Saturday evening to see if we could get some photos of the sun setting behind the fire, which we were able to, but the smoke and clouds quickly became too thick. On Sunday, the last day of the workshop, the smoke finally started drifting down the valley to the lodge, creating just enough haze to begin to obscure the mountain tops.
As of today, July 17th, the fire is still going and has spread to over 8,450 ha and there are 119 firefighters, 8 helicopters and various heavy equipment fighting the fire. Since the area that the fire is in was scheduled to undergo a prescribed burn in the next couple of years, they have been just maintaining the fire boundaries so that it doesn’t spread too far. The fire, although causing some major disruptions to people’s activities, will actually have some ecological benefits in keeping the forests in the area healthier. We are also looking forward to some neat photographic opportunities in the burnt area over the next few years as the forest starts to regenerate. – Mark