Firefighter dies battling wildfire in Alberta

“It’s terrible. It will devastate the community for a while here. He’ll surely be missed.”

A volunteer firefighter was killed and two men trying to beat back flames on their property were injured in wind-whipped wildfires that scorched parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan and forced the evacuation of several communities.

Officials with Cypress County in southeastern Alberta confirmed the death of James Hargrave, 34, who was with the Walsh fire station. He was helping to fight a fierce grass fire Tuesday that had been driven into Saskatchewan by winds gusting to 100 km/h.

“He was an awesome fellow. He was very nice, kind and very considerate of the community and the people around him,” said Walsh resident Chris Sauer.

“He ran a big ranch north of Walsh with his wife and four young children. He was just an all-around nice person.”

Walsh had a listed population of 60 in the 2016 census. Sauer said everyone knows everybody.

“It’s terrible. It will devastate the community for a while here. He’ll surely be missed.”

Rick Friesen from Vauxhall, Alta., knew Hargrave when the two served together as delegates with the Alberta Beef Producers.

“He was a great young guy. He was friendly, hard-working and a good family man. It’s a shame what happened to him and I feel for his family.”

Related: Death and destruction, hope and heroism in California fires

RCMP said Cypress County firefighters were assisting Saskatchewan crews when there was a crash around midnight involving a water truck and a pickup truck south of Burstall, Sask.

Police said Hargrave was alone in the water truck and died at the scene. The driver of the pickup truck was not badly hurt.

It wasn’t known if fire or smoke in the area were factors in the accident.

“This tragic loss of life speaks to the danger that this emergency posed and also to the heroism of the volunteers who sacrifice in service of their neighbours,” Cpl. Curtis Peters said in a release.

“The RCMP extends its deepest and most sincere condolences to the family of the deceased as well as his friends and colleagues in the Cypress County Fire Department.”

The men trying to protect their land near Tompkins, Sask., were seriously injured and had to be transported to hospital in Calgary. The RCMP did not have an update Wednesday on the condition of the two, who are 43 and 27 years old.

The executive director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency said Hargrave’s death outlines how dangerous grass fires can be.

“It is a very dangerous business that they’re in. Last night’s events are a clear indication of that,” said Scott Long.

“Grass fires, especially with that kind of wind, move at incredibly fast rates of speed and even professionals find themselves in precarious situations.”

On Wednesday evening, provincial officials updated the number of homes lost to 14 —two in Stobart, four in Gleichen, one in Rockyview County, five in Acadia Valley and two on the Siksika First Nation. They said, however, that could go up as further assessments are done.

All but one of the evacuations ordered during the height of the fires had been lifted by Wednesday.

In Saskatchewan, residents of Leader and Burstall were allowed to return home and the fire near Tompkins was under control, although a farmhouse and barn were lost. There was also a loss of some livestock near Richmound.

However, thousands of Saskatchewan residents were without electricity.

One one local state of emergency remained in effect in Alberta in the Crowsnest Pass area of southwestern Alberta, where 150 people were forced from their homes in Coleman.

Related: B.C. wildfires to burn into 2018

While an evacuation order remained in place Wednesday, the mayor of Crowsnest Pass said things had calmed down somewhat.

“The wind has died down. We’ve got helicopters bucketing the area,” Mayor Blair Painter said.

“We were able to divert the fire so it hasn’t affected those areas. I’m hoping we’re able to get those people back just as soon as possible.”

Painter said the blaze was probably caused by downed power lines as a result of strong winds.

No one was injured and a welcome centre was set up in the nearby town of Pincher Creek, where more than 80 residents had registered.

Painter said it was a wild scene when the fire started.

“We had 130 kilometre-an-hour gusts. Probably about 100 kilometres an hour steady, and then gusts up to 130. Guys were even having a hard time standing up so, yeah, it was pretty scary.”

Painter said it didn’t appear any homes burned down. Two barns and two outbuildings were confirmed lost to the fire. A fish hatchery also sustained roof damage from the wind.

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry had 25 wildland firefighters supporting local fire departments. Four helicopters were being deployed.

Related: Wildfire spreads in southwestern Alberta

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

 

Just Posted

Another successful year of Stettler Wildcats rugby

Program features a great number of rugby scholarships and provincial level involvements

Local woman recalls potentially deadly injury from mowing the lawn

Shannon McTavish underwent extensive surgery after metal piece lodged in her neck

AMBER ALERT: Alert cancelled after child located safe and unharmed

Alert cancelled after child located safe and unharmed

Children’s book marks literary first for former Stettler resident

Loree Dittrich is celebrating the release of her first book for children called No Home for a Pigeon

VIDEO: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ to be re-released with new footage

‘Avatar’ holds global box office record at $2.788 billion, while ‘Endgame’ stands at $2.743 billion…

VIDEO: Acknowledging skeptics, finance minister vows to build Trans Mountain project

Bill Morneau said he recognizes ‘huge amount of anxiety’ in Calgary over future of oil and gas sector

Shovels could be in the ground on Trans Mountain by September, CEO says

Ian Anderson points to weeks likely required for NEB to reinstate 2016 regulatory record

Calgary man facing charges after B.C. police service dog aids in arrest

Heavy police presence results in PSD Jagger finding suspect

RCMP allows officers to grow beards

Members can now wear beards and goatees, as long as they’re neatly groomed

Wildfires have forced more than 9,000 people from homes in northern Alberta

People in other communities remain on evacuation alert and could be told to leave quickly

Pride divided: Edmonton leadership under pressure as LGBTQ community looks to future

Most of the conflict can be traced back to 2016 Toronto Pride when Black Lives Matter staged a protest

Federal cabinet ministers visit Edmonton, Calgary, in wake of TMX approval

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi is set to visit Trans Mountain Corp.’s terminal in Edmonton

Statistics Canada reports annual pace of inflation rises in May to 2.4%

Transportation prices gained 3.1 per cent as the cost of air transportation added 8.9 per cent

Most Read