A southern Alberta father said he did all he could to try and protect his family’s property near Claresholm before the smoke became too much last Sunday.
Abram Friesen was spending a normal — albeit windy — Sunday with his wife and four kids, before chaos erupted in the area.
“We sat in the house, just relaxing, and then all of a sudden one of our daughters said, ‘I think I smell smoke,’ and then my wife said, ‘I smell it too,'” he said.
“We ran to the door to see where the smoke was coming from, and we saw this huge cloud of smoke coming from the west.”
Friesen said the cloud — and fire that was causing it — was moving quickly toward his family’s property. Within minutes, a police officer arrived, telling them to evacuate as soon as possible.
His wife and kids — who are between the ages of 11 and 20 — left immediately, but Friesen said he stayed another ten minutes, trying to protect the property.
“Instantly we were kind of in a panic mode,” he said.
“I just ran into my tractor and I started cultivating behind my yard, hoping that the fire wouldn’t cross.”
With the smoke becoming too much to handle, Friesen said he knew it was time to leave. Before fleeing himself, the father opened the gates for the family’s two horses and more than 60 sheep.
He said all the animals survived, thanks to the barrier he created in just a few minutes on his tractor.
“If I would have had a little more time, I could have made that stretch a little longer, and maybe we could have saved this property,” Friesen said.
But when he and his family returned home a few hours later, their fears had come true: the home they had moved into less than six months ago had been levelled by the blaze.
“There was nothing that could be recovered.”
The foundation and a brick chimney is all that remains of the house.
In the four days since the wildfire, Friesen says he and his family have been overwhelmed. The plan is to eventually rebuild — but after losing everything, he says it’s hard to know where to start.
“Now that everything is history, all these memories come back — maybe I should have done this, or I should have done that — and when I think about all of our kids living with us, you know there’s things we miss now, looking back,” he said.
Friesen said the community support in the days since the fire has been incredible, with neighbours supplying feed for his animals, and a pair of Go Fund Me pages, including one started by his children’s school —Immanuel Christian School in Lethbridge — raising more than $20,000 combined for the family.