SUNDRE — A hasty response from the Alberta Wildfire’s Helicopter Attack Crew from Rocky Mountain Forest area, in combination with firefighters and neighbours, prevented a blaze that completely destroyed a barn in the Bearberry area from spreading farther into a nearby residence.
“They actually seen the smoke from the towers, so they auto-launched their heli crew,” said Alex Clews, Sundre Fire Department’s deputy chief.
“They helped knock it down before we got there to keep it from spreading (farther) into the field,” Clews told The Albertan.
The department first received a call about a grass fire at approximately 5:20 p.m. on Saturday, May 29, he said.
“Most of it was contained when we arrived on scene. It had burned back into the black area, and the one outbuilding that was lost was burnt down (to the foundation).”
The duration of the response from the Sundre Fire Department, which also involved a tender from the Olds Fire Department — one of the neighbouring department’s engines had initially also been dispatched as part of a mutual aid agreement auto-response, but was later stood down — lasted a few hours, he said.
The cause of the blaze, said the deputy, is believed to have been a controlled brush pile burn that got out of control.
“And with the heavy winds, it moved up the bank and was threatening structures,” he said.
Adding the fire was still under investigation, Clews could not disclose whether the property’s owner had obtained a fire permit.
However, he added controlled burns are allowed.
“You just have to have a burn permit. If anything,” he added, “it’s a helpful reminder to always — when you’re having brush pile — have water present and always have somebody watching it. Don’t walk away from it. Anything can happen in the blink of an eye.”
While the property owner was present at the time, the couple living in the residence that narrowly escaped a fiery demise was not home.
“There’s multiple residents on the quarter,” said Clews.
Ron Comfort, 70, and Linda Rose, 73, whose home was spared by the inferno courtesy of the prompt response, are grateful the situation did not spiral further out of control.
“It’s just lucky — it could have wiped out three different locations here,” Rose said during an interview.
However, their nerves were still recovering a couple of days after the fire.
“We’re still a little shaky. This was way too close to be comfortable,” she said.
They did not start the brush pile burn. At the time of the incident, they said they were away looking to make a deal for a young bull for their heifers. But the couple, who has been together 30 years, felt a nagging doubt in the back of their minds that compelled them to return home.
“Boy am I ever glad we did. We sure came to quite a welcoming here,” said Rose, adding, “we just came home and all hell broke loose.”
The barn was fully engulfed in flames, but they were able to save a generator and a quad that was stored inside, she said.
“I can’t believe we got it out of there. We just got out the door when the roof fell in, and that was awful close,” she said, praising the helicopter crew, firefighters and neighbours who helped make sure the situation wasn’t even worse.
“Thank God for those people,” she said.
“Those guys did a heck of a job,” she said about the firefighters.
“We want to thank them like so much…that fire department, I can’t say enough good about them.”