After spending the week fighting two wildfires, Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) chief Brian McEvoy said the week felt like one long, never-ending day that started Sunday when the first fire started northwest of Bonnyville, near Forsythe Lake, at approximately 6 p.m.
That fire would grow to 895 hectares by the end of the week, needing 40 local firefighters, 170 firefighters from Sustainable Resource Development (SRD), 12 waterbombers, seven helicopters and nine bulldozers and other heavy equipment to wrestle it under control.
Tuesday evening, according to an MD of Bonnyville press release, winds shifted 180 degrees, from the northwest to the south east, causing the fire to move away from the Moose Lake area and threatening 12 homes four miles north of Moose Lake, at Township 62-7 West of the 4th Meridian in the Forsythe Lake area.
A voluntary evacuation was called at 6 p.m., and the MD declared a State of Local Emergency soon after, evacuating the 12 houses while firefighters worked to stop the advancement of the fire, according to the MD.
“The Town of Bonnyville and the (MD) of Bonnyville have a joint Major Emergency Plan and it was that plan that was activated,” McEvoy explained.
To complicate matters, a second fire lit up on a quarter section of land south east of Muriel Lake along Murphy Road, McEvoy explained.
While firefighters were busily establishing protection perimeters around homes that had been evacuated Tuesday night, they received reports of the second fire, sending reserve forces from Bonnyville and Fort Kent to deal with it.
The second fire was in a patch of land with five-year-old regrowth and old brush piles and firefighters worked quickly to contain it to 40 hectares. McEvoy said they worked the fire with Cats all Tuesday night until 2:30 a.m. when they had adequate fire guards built.
By early press deadline Friday morning, the second fire was listed as extinguished, though firefighters continued to patrol the area on the lookout for flare ups.
This is not the first time the BRFA has dealt with a fire of this magnitude, McEvoy said. A large wildfire burned south of Cherry Grove in 2000.
Rain Wednesday evening helped matters considerably, McEvoy added, saying the burning area received seven mm of rain.
“It was very helpful,” he explained. “It has cooled the fire considerably and allowed the crews to begin serious overhaul and extinguishment.”
By Thursday evening, the fire was finally deemed “being held” rather than “out-of-control.” The State of Local Emergency was rescinded, as was the evacuation order.
“Based on the weather conditions, the stage and size of the fire and the fire guards that have been built by Alberta Sustainable Resources, we have rescinded our State of Local Emergency and are satisfied at this point that there is no farther risk to residences from this fire,” McEvoy said Thursday evening.
“The forestry's already started submitting their demobilization plans,” he said. “When they're looking at their demobilization plans, you know it's pretty safe.”
Because the fire burned mostly on unoccupied land and firefighting efforts contained it were successful, there were no homes or infrastructure lost, other than fence posts, McEvoy added.
The cause of the fire has not been determined and will be investigated by SRD, he said, because the fire happened in a forest protection area on Crown land.
Now that the worst is hopefully over, McEvoy is hoping rural residences learn from the experience and “fire smart” their homes. For more information on protecting homes from wild fire can be found at firesmart.ca.
“The co-operation of all of the businesses and residences of the MD of Bonnyville that supported the Fire Authority and the Municipal District during this time is greatly appreciated,” he added. “In particular the people that co-operated with the voluntary evacuation that allowed us to stand and protect their property.”
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The Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) has declared a fire ban for the MD of Bonnyville as of 10 a.m. May 15.
According to a press release from the BRFA, conditions are “extreme” and “worsening” because of the high winds.
BRFA is also reminding the public to be extremely careful and ensure smoking materials are extinguished before disposing of them. They are also reminding people to be cautious while welding or grinding at work sites or on farms.
Quads and other all-terrain vehicles in the forest are also a fire risk as the build-up of material on the exhaust can ignite.
The ban prohibits the lighting of outdoor fires, the sale and discharge of fireworks and the use of burning barrels and charcoal briquette BBQs. It also requires all outdoor fires presently burning to be extinguished and suspends all fire permits issued under the Forest and Prairie Protection Act or the MD of Bonnyville.
Fires contained in cooking and heating appliances are not prohibited, unless they are portable campfires or fire pits. Fires on industrial sites and facilities approved by the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority are still permitted, as well as fires inside an acceptable fire pit that meets the requirements of the MD's fire services bylaw.
Residents can be held financially responsible for the cost of responding to fires as a result of open burning during the fire ban.