1998 Sofa Mountain Fire in Waterton National Park

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1998 Sofa Mountain Fire

A fire caused by lightning erupted on Waterton National Park's Sofa Mountain in the early morning of September 2nd, 1998. Fanned by strong winds, a smoldering lightning strike quickly became an intense and rapidly moving fire. Decades of fire suppression had created unnaturally high amounts of dead timber and ground debris, which fueled the fire. These factors initially hindered fire fighting efforts but, fortunately, winds from an adjacent valley created an eddy effect which turned the fire back on itself and stalled its advance. This gave fire crews a chance to gain control. Helicopters dropped water on the fire, and crews burned vegetation between the fire front and the guards. Read More

At the peak of fire fighting, the park employed 180 people, 13 bulldozers, 7 water trucks and 8 helicopters. By September 18th, the fire was classified as "under control". A total of 1,521 hectares area was burned, nearly all within Waterton National Park and the Blood Timber Limit. No large animals died in the fire. Most were able to flee the area, only to return immediately after the flames died down.

New plant growth was already sprouting when winter snows finally covered the area. Over the following years grasses, shrubs, wildflowers and wildlife have thrived. While Waterton National Park had not seen such a fire since 1935, history tells us that fire has been a frequent event, helping shape the landscape as it is today.

Research indicates that the Sofa Mountain area has burned about every 95 to 100 years over the past four centuries. The last major fire in this area was 130 years ago. Years of fire suppression had created unnaturally high fuel loads, a factor contributing to the intensity of the fire. The risk of uncontrollable fire in this section of Waterton National Park is now greatly reduced, but remains high elsewhere in the park.