CFB Suffield to improve firefighting, mitigation protocols following devastating grass fire

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

CFB Suffield is looking to learn from a devastating grass fire that sparked on the eastern Alberta military base in September.

The fire, which started when soldiers were destroying an unexploded military artillery shell, spread across 36,000 hectares of land. It destroyed a ranch, killed more than 160 head of cattle and prompted a local state of emergency and evacuations south of Oyen, Alta.

Watch from September 2017: An Alberta man has lost his home and business after a wildfire burned through his property. Bindu Suri reports.

Click to play video: 'Alberta man loses operation in wildfire' Alberta man loses operation in wildfire
Alberta man loses operation in wildfire – Sep 12, 2017

The fire happened at a time when much of the province of Alberta was under a fire ban due to extremely dry conditions.

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It took two days for local and military fire crews to extinguish the fast-spreading flames.

“We acknowledge that this was a horrible event that has deeply affected our neighbours, and we will do everything in our power to improve and learn from this tragedy,” CFB Suffield spokesperson Natalie Finnemore said in a Thursday news release.

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

Immediately after the blaze was extinguished, a board of inquiry investigation was launched. The findings of that investigation were presented in December, along with recommendations on next steps for the base.

Finnemore said the base is “actively planning measures over the short, medium and long-term to enhance fire mitigation measures.”

“We want to learn from this incident, update our procedures and improve the way we conduct our operations,” she said.

For short-term changes, the base is looking at ways to reduce the risk of fire spreading off base again. Changes include:

  • Updating the fire mitigation plan for 2018
  • Revisions to range standing orders and standard operating procedures
  • A proposal for fire guards to be built is being developed, as part of the longer range fire mitigation plan
  • Working with other emergency service providers to revise existing and establish new mutual-aid agreements with the base
  • Upgrading radios and communications systems to better synchronize with other fire services
  • Hosting joint training exercises with other emergency services providers to enhance interoperability between departments
A fire burns in southeastern Alberta south of Oyen near the Saskatchewan border on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Global News

Following the fire, dozens of farmers demanded compensation from the military for their losses. At the time, the Canadian Armed Forces said there would be compensation offered, but the process would take time.

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

“There are absolutely mechanisms to compensate people who have been damaged by activities of the department and government,” Staff Maj. Hugh Atwell said at the time.

“Those unfortunately have a certain degree of paperwork and proof that go with them.”

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