More than 160 cat­tle culled

220 square-km fire on Suffield base left ranch­ers with no choice but to eu­th­a­nize

Medicine Hat News - - FRONT PAGE - GIL­LIAN SLADE gslade@medicine­hat­ Twit­ter: MHNGil­lianSlade

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.


A fire rages in the early morn­ing hours of Tues­day, just south of Bind­loss on the north­ern edge of Cy­press County. Sev­eral dozen cat­tle have had to be de­stroyed fol­low­ing in­juries sus­tained in the blaze.

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