CFB Suffield base commander responds to residents impacted by grass fire: ‘We understand their frustration and anger’

The devastation caused by a fire in southeastern Alberta south of Oyen near the Saskatchewan border on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Global News / Paul MacEachern

A family that operates a ranch in Bindloss, Alta. says it could be five years before they can winter their cattle on land destroyed in a grass fire that may have spread from a fire at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Suffield, and the base’s commander says he understands their frustration.

“Basically, it’s going to be out of commission for three to five years,” Laurel Schlaht said on Friday, while talking about the winterfield grassland that was destroyed by the flames.

LISTEN: Laurel Schlaht on the loss her family suffered because of a grass fire east of Calgary

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READ MORE: Southeastern Alberta farmers, ranchers demand compensation from military following massive fire

The two sections of land that were destroyed are on the northeast corner of the CFB Suffield range, about six minutes from the base.

Schlaht said her family and others that live close to the base are fed up with what they see as a “lack of communication” from the military.

“We live on guard all the time, looking over to see if there’s a fire burning and if we need to be ready,” she said.

Lt.-Col. Michael Onieu said he’s ordered the most extensive investigation possible, which he said Friday will be done by a third party and will require that people testify under oath. He said it would be a lengthy process and advised residents to seek damages through their insurance agencies while they await the outcome.

READ MORE: Disposal of ordnance ‘possible’ cause of destructive fire in eastern Alberta: military

WATCH BELOW: Alberta senior loses home and six buildings after grass fire

Click to play video: 'Alberta senior loses home and six buildings after grass fire' Alberta senior loses home and six buildings after grass fire
Alberta senior loses home and six buildings after grass fire – Sep 12, 2017

CFB Suffield said soldiers had been destroying an unexploded artillery shell left over from a training exercise on Monday, which started a fire that eventually spread outside of the base.

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That same night, an out-of-control grass fire charred 36,000 hectares of land, destroying one ranch south of Oyen and burning more than 160 cattle.

Onieu said if the investigation proves CFB Suffield was at fault, the insurance company would then make a claim against the Crown. He said people without insurance will have to make a claim directly to the Crown.

“If there are mistakes made, we will find out and we will fix them,” he said.

READ MORE: Grass fire in southeast Alberta that led to state of emergency ‘stabilizing’

“There has always been some consternation about the fact that we appropriated the land, and that goes back decades,” Onieu added. “We have long memories here in the local community. So start with that, and then you add to that the fact that we’re a difficult neighbour to have in your neighbourhood by nature of what we do.

“And then when you take an incident like this, it’s very frustrating and the amount of devastation and loss here is significant.”

Schlaht said the army does not inform residents when they are lighting fires, and said that needs to change.

“They don’t seem to understand that we as ranchers and farmers, we have to make a livelihood and we have to care for the land because we need it next year.”

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