By Gillian Slade on September 14, 2017.
A fire that spread from CFB Suffield on Monday, engulfing 220 square kilometres on the base, plus another 58 square kilometres beyond, is now claiming the lives of more than 160 cattle that were burned.
“I am hearing a preliminary total of 160 head of cattle,” said Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes.
Fences were cut to allow animals to flee the fire but many were still badly burned, said Louise Schlaht.
“We euthanized 65 animals, cows and calves, yesterday,” said Schlaht, whose husband Ivan went out with a neighbour for the grim task.
The cull represents more than half the herd owned by the Schlahts. On Wednesday they were having to bury the culled animals.
A large grassfire started at CFB Suffield after a military operation to dispose of an undetonated explosive left from a military exercise, said acting base commander Maj. Hugh Atwell at Suffield. In general, these are blown up. On Monday a fire engine was stationed nearby because of the dry conditions but the crew was unable to extinguish the fire.
The unexploded device would have been used during a British Army Training Unit Suffield exercise, however the operation on Monday was performed by Canadian Armed Forces Ammunition Technicians who were accompanied by the base’s Field Operations Section firefighters, said Natalie Finnemore, spokesperson for CFB Suffield.
Questions about whether the area was soaked with water before the detonation and/or whether the explosion was particularly large, go answered at this stage.
“We are not able to speculate as to what factors may have played a role in the growth of the fire as this matter is under investigation,” said Finnemore.
Barnes and Rick Strankman, MLA for Drumheller-Stettler, are meeting with those affected by the fire at the Bindloss school on Thursday from 2-4 p.m. Everyone is welcome, said Barnes.
“Obviously it is most unfortunate that people have lost their home and have lost their livestock…” said Glen Motz, MP for Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner.
The military will be conducting a number of investigations and looking at what it can do to help those affected, said Motz.
While Suffield is in Motz’s constituency the ranchers affected are in the constituency of MP Kevin Sorenson. Sorenson said he was pleased to see the defence department acknowledge responsibility for the fire as a first step.
There are many aspects to resolving the issues of loss and compensation, which take time, said Sorenson. There may be some money up front for those affected like the province did for those affected by floods in the past.
After Thursday’s meeting Barnes says he will be talking to Motz, Bow River MP Martin Shields and Sorenson to ensure “nobody hides from the responsibility” of addressing the loss experienced.
Oyen RCMP were asked to assist in evacuating rural residences around midnight on Monday, due to the fire along the north bank of the South Saskatchewan River approximately 120 kilometres south of Oyen, according to a press release.
The home of Morley Sarvis, 89, was destroyed in the fire about 15 minutes after he was rescued from an upstairs bedroom unaware of the approaching danger. He was taken to the Schlahts home and on Tuesday had an opportunity to see the destruction to his farm and home — a home where he has spent his whole life.
“He’s actually doing fairly good,” said Schlaht on Wednesday. “We will be taking him up to Oyen. There is a lodge there and it sounds like they have a room for him.”
Another neighour and Schlaht will be helping to get “his affairs in order and help him through all this”, said Schlaht noting there have been numerous calls from his relatives.
“He’s doing as well as can be expected for his age,” she explained.
Fire services from Medicine Hat and Cypress County assisted in fighting the fire.
“As part of the mutual aid agreements between the CFB Suffield Fire Services and other fire services, including those in Medicine Hat and Cypress County, there is a cost recovery process for those fire services which are called in by the base to support firefighting efforts,” said Finnemore.
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