Southeastern Alberta farmers, ranchers demand compensation from military following massive fire
Southeastern Alberta ranchers want answers from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) after a devastating grass fire earlier this week.
The out-of-control fire left a ranch in ruins south of Oyen Monday night and burned more than 160 cattle; 36,000 hectares of land was left charred.
The military now acknowledges responsibility for the fire, saying it started while soldiers were destroying an unexploded artillery shell that was left over from a military training exercise — though officials say this was not a part of training in itself.
The CAF said the shell was near oil and gas infrastructure that needed to be serviced.
Dozens of angry farmers and ranchers gathered to express their disgust and frustration with the military during a community meeting Thursday afternoon.
One of the landowners suggested the military should have been more careful amid the dry conditions.
Organizers said Suffield should have waited for rain before detonating an ordnance and added the military should be responsible for replacing all losses in the community, including cattle, bales and potential vet bills related to the calves.
Farmer Ivan Schlaht said he’s behind the training of soldiers, but wants to make sure such a thing never happens again.
“I got a neighbour just turned 89 on the 3rd of September and he’s been born and raised on that place and he lost everything,” Schlaht said. “He’s living at my place temporarily.
“Now it looks like he’s going to have… a different way of life altogether than what he’s used to.”
Morley Sarvis lost his home, six other structures, three tractors, two trucks and other machinery on his farm after the fire spread to his property. Neighbours woke him up to help him get to safety.
“I took the farm over from my dad and I’ve been farming here ever since,” he previously told Global News.
Watch below from Sept. 12: Morley Sarvis lost one home and six structures were destroyed after a huge grass fire east of Calgary. Global’s Bindu Suri reports.
No one from CFB Suffield was at Thursday’s meeting. Officials from the CAF told Global News Thursday night they were asked not to be there, and instead to attend a meeting that will be held next week.
CAF said there will be compensation for damages, but that will take time and paperwork.
“There are absolutely mechanisms to compensate people who have been damaged by activities of the department and government,” Staff Major Hugh Atwell said.
“Those unfortunately have a certain degree of paperwork and proof that go with them.”
The military said this could carry a hefty price tag, but there is a commitment to follow through.
“In every individual case based on the facts that claims are settled appropriately regardless of what the overall cost is,” Atwell said.
State of emergency still in effect
A local state of emergency remained in effect for Special Areas 2 as of Thursday afternoon, according to an update from the Special Areas Board, the local rural municipality.
The emergency reception centre set up for residents impacted by a mandatory evacuation order that ended Tuesday was open until Wednesday.
“It continues to act as a staging area for support and recovery services,” reads the Special Areas update.
Fire crews remain on-site but no active fires have been reported since Tuesday, Sept. 13.
“This fire has been devastating in its impact,” reads the statement. “Estimated at 90,000 acres in size, the fire has resulted in approximately 160 cattle lost, one farm site destroyed and undetermined miles of fence and infrastructure burnt.
“The lives of those impacted, from the residents who had to leave their homes and farms in the middle of the night to those on the front-line who tirelessly fought this fire have been changed forever.”
With files from Global’s Phil Heidenreich
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