Grassfire in southern Alberta has real consequences

Sparked by military activity, blaze lit while fire ban in place

Submitted By Rick Strankman, MLA Drumheller-Stettler

Last week on Canadian Forces Base Suffield, while disposing of ordinance that had not been detonated, it was determined that military personnel had ignited tinder dry Prairie. This ignition had some dire and real consequences for residents down-wind of the site.

With Southern Alberta under a complete open fire ban due to hot dry weather and several areas of southwestern Alberta forests already ablaze, a routine exercise had become what can only be described as unintended consequences. The problem is, unintended or not, these actions can have profound effects for real people and families; this was just such a case.

The decision to move forward with an exercise that produces an open ignition source without proper preventative fire suppression employed was simply shortsighted. Being in the Legislature gives you a comprehension of the peril of unintended consequences. Often legislators will call for regulations, policy or legislation that produces an outcome very different from what they were trying to seek.

The ensuing blaze that escaped CFB Suffield resulted in a very dangerous negative consequence for area resident, 89 year old Morley Sarvis, who lost his home; and if not for some quick thinking by his neighbors, he could have lost his life. Unfortunately, his farm was completely destroyed by the ensuing unintended wildfire.

Downwind, frantic local landowners and firefighters struggled with those consequences that were bearing down upon them at unprecedented speed. If it’s one thing the residents in the southern part of the Drumheller Stettler riding have shown, its resilience and compassion. It was almost one year ago that an outbreak of tuberculosis decimated herds of cattle in the Bindloss, Jenner area, once again the community pulled together. Another gruesome consequence of the fire was the loss of an estimated 160 head of cattle that were killed downwind from the base.

The similarities are few between last years TB outbreak and the recent fire. Thankfully the same can’t be said about the response of local residents. More than 20 fire trucks and 10 water trucks were pressed into service as well as other heavy equipment to battle the flames, all of which were manned with the help of valiant volunteers.

Once again, these Alberta farmers showed that they’re anything but average, which was illustrated by their response to this emergency. The fire that caused a mandatory evacuation of the area was met with area residents pulling together to ensure everyone was safe. They came when the alarm was raised and they responded with the compassion we see time and again in rural Alberta. This is yet another reason I am proud to have these people as my friends and neighbours.

As the representative for the people in the Drumheller Stettler riding, it will always be my responsibility to remind my fellow MLAs, inside and outside the Legislature, to be mindful of the unintended effects that could cause real consequences for Albertans.

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