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Mechanical failure suspected cause of massive straw bale blaze in Eagle Hill area

Sundre Fire Department calls on Olds for mutual aid in response that lasted 13 hours in Mountain View County

MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY — A mechanical failure in a processing machine that shreds bales is suspected to have sparked a fire that quickly spread into a massive blaze which consumed hundreds of straw bales in the Eagle Hill area of the county yesterday.

“This isn’t a common event, to lose this many bales,” said Ross Clews, the Sundre Fire Department’s chief. “It was approximately 800-plus round bales that were in the pile, is what we were told.”  

The call to respond to a fire along Rge. Rd. 35 just south of Twp. Rd. 340 came in on Thursday, Jan. 27 at 11:47 a.m. The local department dispatched an engine, a command truck, as well as a tender along with nine members and a shift change since some had work commitments, said Clews.

“I was the first on scene and the last one to leave,” he said.  

The crew wasn’t back at the station and ready for service again until 12:47 a.m. Friday, the chief said, adding the response time logged was 13 hours.

When the crew changed out, an additional bush pickup truck designed similarly to a wildland unit was also brought to the scene to transport members, he said.

And a call for mutual aid to the neighbouring Olds Fire Department brought out another pumper and tender for additional water supply complemented by more firefighters. Later in the day, the Olds department’s pumper was changed out for one of their wildland trucks, he said.

The cause of the fire, he said, was from a Highline Bale Pro that takes round bales and shreds them up.

“They were shredding straw,” he said about the landowners. “Something happened inside (the machine) — probably a mechanical failure of bearing or something — which started the fire in the processor.”

As soon as the farmer noticed what was unfolding and observed the smoke that had started billowing out, he moved the machine away and began trying to extinguish the budding blaze, said Clews.

“He was doing as much as he could,” the chief said.

However, despite the property owner’s best efforts to move the bales away from the fire to deny additional fuel, the blaze spread too quickly and overpowered his attempt to snuff it out, he said.

“The farmer had two tractors and he was trying to salvage or move the straw away until the fire overtook and he couldn’t do it safely anymore,” he said.

“When I got there, he was moving straw, and 10 minutes later, it was fully involved. It spread extremely fast down the stacks – it was one big, long stack (of bales)."

The chief added that most of the snow in the area had already melted away and that conditions were getting drier.

“There was no snow on the stack and there was virtually no snow through the yard,” he said.

Additional heavy equipment including a track hoe was brought in to move the bales and pile them up in an effort to get them burned down while surrounding property including feed was protected, he said.

Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the blaze didn’t get a chance to spread any farther, he said.

“We were able to prevent it from spreading to the other feed he has in the yard,” the chief said.

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel joined Mountain View Publishing in 2015 after working for the Vulcan Advocate since 2007, and graduated among the top of his class from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's journalism program in 2006.
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