Spondin experiences four-mile wide grass fire

(Right) An aerial view of cattle near a dugout with the fire fast approaching. (Photo courtesy of Jim Wasdal) (Left) Farmers work diligently on the ground to put out the blaze. (Photo courtesy of Carter Link)
Written by Terri Huxley

The Spondin area was engulfed in a large grass fire on Saturday afternoon, April 17.

It could be found three miles east of Spondin, Alta. heading south to Highway 586.

Many farmers attended with water trucks, discers and other equipment and tools  to stop the fire as well as the fire departments from Hanna, Youngstown, Veteran and Coronation and Special Areas support vehicles and graders.

The Castor Fire Department was on standby in case another fire occurred.

Firefighters were called to the scene at 11:45 a.m. and left at approximately 6:30 p.m.

Special Areas Fire Chief Glen Durand shared with the ECA Review that at its widest point, the fire was a mile and a half long.

No cause has been identified yet but an investigation is underway.

Additionally, no outbuildings or structures were burned – simply grasslands and some fence lines and road signs.

Later that evening at around 3 a.m. on Sunday, snow came in to give some added moisture to the burnt area and various hot spots.

“I’ll tell you, I slept better when I saw the snow coming down,” said Durand.

The land that was burned (1237 acres or just under two sections) is owned by Thane Russel, John Suntjens and Drew Barnes.

Connor Johnstone who works for Russel shared that two newborn calves perished in the fire while four were saved.

In one pasture there were just under 200 head of cattle that were moved out to safety with considerable effort as cows with young calves are difficult to move at the best of times.

At the time of the fire, it was 20 degrees with a humidity of 17 per cent. 

This is referred to as crossover conditions and is an indicator of extreme fire behaviour.

The fire chief was extremely appreciative of all the extra hands that were ‘imperative’ to getting the fire out and continuing to check for hot spots throughout the night.

“Their support was tremendous. That was instrumental for sure in suppressing this fire,” he said. 

“We are so grateful for the farmers for their response. We had people coming out from Craigmyle and all sorts of areas far and wide bringing resources whether it is manpower or water and food.”

“This fire could have been much worse, especially without the quick response from fire departments, residents, and neighbours. Discers and water wagons were instrumental in knocking down the fire growth to allow fire departments to effectively control and suppress it. Thank you to everyone who answered the call – you made the difference on Saturday. The collaboration, cooperation, and strong communication evident throughout the day reinforces what an incredible community we are all a part of.”

When responding to grass fires, It is critically important to understand key risks – and how to combat them.

Durand wishes to remind residents there is a Grassfire Safety Toolkit available online to learn more about fire prevention, fire behaviour, and responder safety.

Fire safety tips

Grass fires increase in speed uphill; the sharper the hill the faster the fire will travel. Know where you are and always have an out.

Work from the black (burnt out or bare areas) and always have an out.

This may mean sacrificing some grass – but will help keep you safe.

And lastly, stick together. Work in groups in the event one vehicle gets stuck or damaged. Always have an out.

 

Terri Huxley

ECA Review

About the author

Terri Huxley

Terri grew up on a grain farm near Drumheller, Alberta with an eye for the beautiful and uncharted. Living in such a unique and diverse area has helped her become the photographer and reporter she is today.

Coming from the East Central region getting this newspaper on her dinner table growing up, it helped her understand the community she now serves.

In May 2019, Terri was awarded Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association (AWNA) Canada's Energy Citizens Photographic Awards Sports Action – First Place as well as first for the same sports action image nationally with the Canadian Community Newspaper Association (CCNA). Fast forward to 2020, she has won second in the same category for the AWNA.