By Jamie Rieger
Only three residents of the County of Forty Mile turned out for council’s information session on a grassfire that was sparked by lightning at the end of August in a remote area of the county. The County decided to hold the session to inform the public of the protocol involved when there is an emergency situation, such as a large fire, taking place.
“I got good and negative feedback and there was a lot of misconception out there,” said reeve, Bryne Lengyel. “Council decided to provide the information to the people and make the community aware of the protocol involved.”
Municipal Enforcement officer, Stewart Payne provided a timeline of the activities and communication that took place of the Pinhorn Grazing Reserve fire that burned approximately 3.5 miles of coulee bottom.
Payne described his conversations with Jacen Abrey, acting director, deputy fire commissioner and indicated to him that provincial air support would be needed to help fight the fire. The Calgary fire centre was also contacted, with air support being dispatched. A water tanker from Taber was also dispatched and the Foremost airport was set up for the emergency aircraft.
Because of the strong winds blowing through the coulee at the time of the fire, the water tanker was unable to assist because conditions were too dangerous. The tanker did, however, remain at the Foremost airport and was ready to assist if the fire came over the top of the coulee.
After the Calgary Fire Centre assessor arrived early on Sunday afternoon, a water bomber was ordered.
“The assessor needs to be on-site before a water bomber will be dispatched,” said county fire chief, Nathan Cote. “Some of the delay was out of the county’s hands.”
Payne noted that the two helicopters, one from Calgary and the other from Crowsnest Pass, had called themselves off in order to re-fuel in Medicine Hat.
“When the tanker and bird dog arrived, the bird dog flew a couple of passes first. The original plan was for the tanker to lay eight strips on the fire, but the bird dog said ‘no, it’s too dangerous’. Then, the plan was to do a high-altitude drop because it was too windy in the coulee,” said Payne.
Lengyel added that the county needs to hold discussions on protocols should something similar happen in the future.
“We need to have discussions about this and what to do when it happens on unoccupied land. They tell us it is your fire, but you have to work with us,” said Lengyel. “Everybody felt like there was no control. I am extremely proud of our volunteer firefighters who showed up that day. I was concerned that somebody would get hurt. The key word is safety. It over-rides everything.”
Bill Symour, from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, was also in attendance at the information session.