February 22nd, 2018

Suffield takes the hint after fire

By Gillian Slade on January 19, 2018.

NEWS PHOTO GILLIAN SLADE
Lt.-Col. Mike Onieu, base commander at CFB Suffield, glances down at notes while announcing that all 17 recommendations made by a board of inquiry have been accepted following the Bindloss fire on Sept. 11, 2017.


gslade@medicinehatnews.com 
@MHNGillianSlade

All 17 recommendations made by a board of inquiry have been accepted by Canadian Forces Base Suffield following the Bindloss fire on Sept. 11 last year.

“I can confidently say that everybody here and above us is working very diligently and very hard to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, and to be able to process landowner claims as expeditiously as we can,” said base commander Lt.-Col.Mike Onieu.

On Wednesday there was meeting in Bindloss to discuss the recommendations.

“My hope is that we have provided them some assurance that we are sincere in our efforts to prevent this from happening again, and that we are taking every possible measure to expedite the claims process,” said Onieu.

Rancher Ivan Schlaht, who lost 98 head of cattle in the fire, says the meeting was positive and details appear to be going in the right direction.

“It was good to see the legal people there to ask questions about claims. It’s nice to put a face with the name.” said Schlaht.

A fire started at CFB Suffield as a result of a planned destruction of a decades old artillery shell discovered on the surface.

The fire spread and engulfed 220 square kilometres on the base, plus another 58 square kilometres beyond. By the time the fire was out, more than 160 head of cattle had either died in the blaze or had to be euthanized because they were so badly burned.

Every year the base deals with between 100 and 200 disposals of unexploded bombs. They are discovered through the oil and gas activity on the base and/or soldiers, said Onieu.

In future, when possible, a detonation may be delayed to a time when it is safer, said Onieu.

The report from the board of inquiry convened by Brigadier-General Trevor Cadieu, Commander of 3rd Canadian Division, released Dec. 8 will not be made public because of the potential or possibility of future litigation, said Onieu.

The recommendations include a review of policies and procedures around firefighting, fire mitigation — including fire guards where required — a review of equipment and personnel to ensure the base is adequately resourced, how the disposal of an unexploded device in prioritized, improving communication with emergency services in the surrounding community and having water pre-positioned at more outlying areas of the base so it is more readily accessible.

The report also provides facts and information for affected landowners to have their claims for compensation processed by the Crown, said Onieu, who expects more than 20 claims which will be handled in Edmonton.

When people will receive compensation is unclear.

“Unfortunately I can’t give you an exact date,” said Onieu.

The possibility of interim payments was mentioned and that was comforting for all who have already incurred significant expenses, said Schlaht.

“We’re all strapped for cash,” he said noting some people affected have had to borrow money.

The claims office has brought on another legal officer to help process claims and will be hiring an adjuster to go to the affected properties to help assess the dollar value of the damage.

For the landowners who have talked of watching the horizon for signs of fires coming from the base, Onieu is committed to addressing that through better communication and fire mitigation measures.

“We will ensure that the communities surrounding Suffield are able to live without the constant fear that fires on the base are going to escape and damage their property,” said Onieu.

Cutting down vegetation around the perimeter of the based carries the risk of unexploded munitions killing someone operating the equipment.

“We are studying what it will take to implement the full fire guard and we will then prioritize,” said Onieu.

Initially it will focus on the north and northeast that are historically the danger areas based on prevailing winds. It is unlikely to start in 2018.

While understanding of the enormous task and cost, Schlaht is disappointed it will not begin this year.

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