Could've been worse

Alberta Forestry firefighters were finished their work building a perimeter fire guard at the site of the Graburn fire and demobilized on Tuesday, Aug. 6, according to a statement released by Cypress County. Crews had been working with a water delivery system using the nearby creek, agriculture pumps, hand tools, chainsaws, sprinklers, and hose lines. 

Monitoring and patrols will continue and will be coordinated through Walsh volunteer fire chief Jack Zieffle. These efforts will include landowners and volunteers using handheld thermal imaging cameras in the evenings to detect any remaining hot spots.

In addition, Cypress County has issued a county-wide fire ban and added more resources to assist those already in place. 

For Cyndy and Darren Lutz, whose property has sustained fire damage, the work will continue in cleaning up and building fences after a week of watching their property following a fire that started on July 28. They, along with volunteers, kept 24 hour vigil over their property, in case the fire started flaring up again.

Heli Source Ltd. conducted flyovers of the area using thermal imaging and found 480 hot spots and the fire continued to burn underground within the vegetation root systems. 

Despite the vigilance of fire crews and volunteers, the Graburn fire erupted once again.

“ We had been on night watch the night before because of the previous fire. There were seven or eight of us out there. We came home and went to bed and another group came to watch for hot spots. We got up about noon and there was a lot of smoke, so we got our vehicles and stuff out of there. There was so much smoke you couldn’t see,” said Cyndy. “There was a stream of fire trucks going past our place and three of the county trucks started foaming our place.”

The Lutz have nothing but praise for the volunteer firefighters who saved their home and buildings from the blaze.

“Our Walsh fire department came and have had people stay overtop of the house. I can’t say enough about Jack Zieffle and his crew at the Walsh fire department. He and his guys have worked so hard. A couple of nights ago, they were out there from 11 pm to 4 am using thermal imaging. Jack and his guys went in behind and dug out roots and below the grass where things were burning. The ground was so hot and it was glowing back there,” she said. 

The following day, as the Lute’s were relying on volunteers to come out and help keep watch for hot spots, a train derailed west of Irvine, shutting down the TransCanada Highway for several hours.

“The night of the derailment, we had people from Medicine Hat who were coming out to help us, but we told them to stay home,” she said. 

Two teams from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, one from Blairmore and the other from St. Albert, had been on scene until Aug. 6 when the fire was deemed extinguished. Local fire officials, as well as landowners and volunteers will continue to monitor for hot spots. 

The Lutz’s lost a considerable amount of fencing and have had to relocate their cattle until new fences can be built. 

“Our cattle were wandering because of the fences being gone,” said Lutz, adding that some of the cattle have been moved to another field and others have been taken to a neighbour’s field.

”Our calving field got it the worst, so that will impact us and in our back fields, it will be two or three years before we can have cattle there again,” she added. 

Cyndy also said that damage to small trees and bushes has made areas dangerous.

“All of the small trees, the willows, poplars, and aspens, and the chokecherry and saskatoon bushes where they burned from the top, there is now six-12 inches of a spear. If you fall, you’ll get gouged. It’s dangerous,” she said.

They are continuing with clean-up and working on putting crews together for building fences, but it will be some time before their property returns to normal. 

Irvine train derailment update

As of Aug. 6, CP Rail was continuing to work at cleaning up the site where a train derailed west of Irvine on Aug. 2. Cypress County encouraged residents impacted by the derailment to contact the CP Rail Claim coordinator at 403-319-6364 or online at claims_division-calgary@cpr.ca

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