Though the West Block of Grasslands National Park was recently the site of a large wildfire, the Park is open to the public. Visitors are welcome to enjoy the various facilities such as the EcoTour Road and the Frenchman Valley Campground and activities such as hiking and camping. We do ask that people take proper safety measures when in the park. This includes calling 9-1-1 if they spot fire or smoke, and then proceed to leave the Park immediately. A complete description of the safety information can be found under Visitor Information Tab under Visitor Safety.
Fast Facts - Grasslands National Park Fire April 27-28, 2013
Information current as of May 5th, 2013
Size of Fire: 5,056 hectares (over 12,200 acres) burned. The total area may seem larger but there was a significant unburned patch within the burn perimeter. See attached map
Perimeter Size: The active fire outer perimeter was 71.5kms. This is approximate as in some areas, fire climbed up in draws or fingered out and each edge of these was not accounted for in detail.
Start/Ignition Point/First Reported: A call to 911 was initiated on Saturday April 27th by a local resident who noticed a fire in agricultural lands in the R.M. of Val Marie at 11:50am. At the point of the call the fire was still west of the highway number 4 and about 8 kms south-west of Val Marie.
Timeline of fire (all times are approximate): The fire moved east, crossed Highway 4 and then later crossed the Rosefield Grid between 12:30 - 12:45pm. It then entered the park on its western-most side right at the Two Trees Trail road. The fire continued to move east inside the park boundaries until it hit the Frenchman River Valley. It then took a path that roughly followed the river valley floor in a E-SE direction until the first finger hit the Ecotour (River) Road about 3:30pm. During this 3 hour period, some crews were holding the south perimeter of the fire to stop its spreading flanks from moving further south out of the park and into surrounding ranches. Other crews were able to stall the advance of the fire for a while at Ecotour, but around 6:00pm it crossed the river at the Belza bridge area. By 8:00pm it had passed through the new campground area (mainly unscathed) and was at the historic Larson buildings as well as north across the river from there.
It was approximately in this area that the fire began to be halted from its aggressive path forward. Crews fought the fire and the advancing perimeters/flanks until 3:00-4:00 a.m. Sunday, April 28. From 4:00am to 4:00pm any further perimeter spread was marginal and from 4:00 p.m. onwards there was no further perimeter growth. By Tuesday all flare-ups and hot spots were being held within the existing burn perimeter. On Tuesday through Friday over 100 hotspots were still being discovered and extinguished. These are mainly below the surface in the root and litter areas of bushes, shrubs and willows. Efforts and monitoring will continue until the fire is declared "extinguished".
Volunteers and Staff (this list is not comprehensive as names are still being provided): It is believed that at least 250 people were involved in the fire incident but this has not been finalized and there could be up to 50 more. Of the 250 known, over 161 people fought the fire and/or were involved in direct logistics and communications/dispatch. These included many community members from surrounding ranches and homes as well as the broader southwest: the R.M.s and villages of: Val Marie, Mankota, Climax, Orkney, Frontier, Bracken, Ponteix, Cadillac, and Wood Mountain; the Province of Saskatchewan (Cypress Fire Protection Management Branch and the Emergency Government Service); 3 Hutterite Colonies; Parks Canada staff from Grasslands, Prince Albert, Waterton, Jasper, Lake Louise, Kootenay, and Batoche NHS. There have been some reports that there were over 200 people direct on the fire lines but this has yet to be confirmed. A list compiled so far can be made available by Grasslands if anyone would like to volunteer to help look over it and add missing names. Also within the group of 250 were over ninety community members from near and far, organizations and businesses who were involved in food preparation, food deliveries, water deliveries and donations of food and cash. The amount of community support and intense mobilization of resources is astounding.
Equipment: Multiple graders, large water trucks, trucks with small water tanks, refuelling slip tanks, fire engines, off road vehicles, hand tools, drip torches and a helicopter.
Ongoing Measures: The Incident Command Structure at Grasslands National Park is still in place with crews on the ground dealing with hotspots with intentions of completely extinguishing the fire. The fire is controlled but not considered extinguished until a period of time passes where no more hotspots are discovered. This could be a number of weeks, or longer. We don't expect any further growth but we remain on high alert.
Resources lost: Straw stacks, some neighbouring grazing lands, fences on the 70 square mile bison holding area, unoccupied heritage buildings including Larson Bank Barn, Syrennes' building, Belza Homestead Building, trail markers, signage and minor visitor infrastructure.
Resources in line of fire but did not sustain major damage: High quality hay stack yards, Belza Bridge, Frenchman River Campground, Belza Day Use Area, Larson house/bunkhouse heritage buildings, Bison Handling Facility. Protection measures were put in place for other facilities and assets that were under potential threat further downstream such as the Dixon and Walker Ranches.
Effects on Wildlife:
- Some small animals such as porcupines have perished in the fire. It is not certain how animals with dens and burrows were affected i.e. fox, coyotes, badgers
- No bison were killed in the fire.
- The fire affected 3 prairie dog colonies - Monument, Snake Pit and Larson. At this point we are not certain of the effects of the fire on the prairie dogs or the black-footed ferrets and they will be monitored. We are working with the Calgary Zoo to understand the fire's effects in these areas.
- Animals and birds have been observed to be intently exploring the burn areas beginning the day after the fire i.e. shorebirds, burrowing owls, and bison.
Open for business:
The Park remains open to visitors. The visitor reception centre opens daily for the season on the May long week-end, however self-guided touring of the park is possible and encouraged, and self-registration for camping is available, in front or back-country.
Regular safety messages still apply i.e. bison are curious and the herd is growing and becoming more visible to visitors. Snakes are beginning their spring migrations, although they will be far more noticeable in burn areas than in tall grass. Trail markers/trail heads in burned areas have not been replaced. Make sure you have a method for keeping your bearings i.e. maps, compass, GPS. Visitors are advised to stay vigilant and to report anything unusual to park staff. It is also wise to check on the website or the office for closures or changing conditions before arrival.
There are wind effects across the high tops of burn areas whereby soot is picked up in 'dust devils' or plumes and can resemble fire smoke. Please be sure you aren't calling in these soot disturbances into 911. If in doubt, call park staff and someone can verify. The burn areas are already beginning to green up in many areas.
Aerial photo of burned area in the Frenchman River Valley© Parks Canada
Aerial photo of bison grazing in burned area of Grasslands NP© Parks Canada
As shown in the aerial photograph of the fire in the West Block, Grasslands National Park taken on 27 April, 2013 the Burned Area covers ca 5,056 Hectars, 12,494 Acres, 50 square Kilometers, 20 Square miles. The image also highlights roads, Highways, the Frenchman River and current Holdings
Aerial photo of bison grazing in burned area of Grasslands NP© Parks Canada
Grand opening of Frenchman Valley Campground
posted on: August 21st, 2012
The new Coulee Centre cook shelter
Saturday, August 4th, 2012, marked the grand opening of the new Frenchman Valley Campground in Grasslands National Park. New campground and visitor facilities in Grasslands National Park provide exciting new opportunities for visitors to connect with the Park. The Frenchman Valley Campground features 20 tent and RV campsites (including four electrical sites) and four walk-in campsites (including two with tipi-style accommodations). All sites have fire pits and picnic tables, which have table tops made from recycled plastic.
New campground facilities include a cook shelter, an architecturally sensitive structure reflecting the character of place that will be a central location for visitor experience programming as well as providing emergency cover during inclement weather.
posted on: July 11th, 2012
Rock Creek Campground Bridge & Summer Kitchen
Grasslands National Park has completed the new Rock Creek Campground Bridge and Summer Kitchen. With this new beautiful bridge built going across Rock Creek, visitors will now be able to safely access the park on the other side of the river. Be sure to check out the Red Buttes!
A cooking shelter has also been completed and is open to use. This new building allows campers to use camp stoves during the fire season.
Come and see it for yourself! More information on camping at Grasslands National Park can be found here.
October 2011 Ferret Release (with video)
posted on: November 18nd, 2011
Students releasing Black-footed Ferrets in Grasslands National Park
"Almost lost forever. The black-footed ferret is re-discovering the Canadian prairies. See the thrill of the Prairie Learning Centre students as they have a once in a lifetime experience assisting Parks Canada biologists in releasing these "prairie bandits" into Grasslands National Park."
Click here for more information and a video about the release!
Bison Update - 2011
posted on: September 13th, 2011
A newly born calf
© Johane Janelle
The Grassland National Park plains bison population came through the end of one of the most severe winters on record in excellent condition. Calving began with the first calf produced on 25 April 2011 (two days earlier than in 2010). By the time July arrived there were at least 60 calves produced. Otherwise the population has continued to thrive and to exceed expectations in population growth. The population may be fragmenting from one large maternal herd, to three sub-herds that form after the rut and prior to the onset of winter. This natural progression to smaller herds is an expected result of increasing population size, and will, eventually lead to bison occupying a larger area of the West Block. After the 2011 calving season the population is about 250 animals. The expected 2012 calf crop is estimated to be 76 calves, and this will bring the herd to about 326 bison by the fall of 2012.
With GPS technology, we can find the exact location of the bison! Stop by the Visitor Reception Centre in Val Marie to get an update on where they are. Check out our page on Bison Safety Information.
First Wild-Born Black-Footed Ferrets
Two Black-footed Ferrets
© Mike Lockhart/ US Fish and Wildlife
Government of Canada celebrates first wild-born black-footed ferrets in Grasslands National Park. Learn more.