Community effort to fight windstorm fires

By: Laura Keil

A couple lucky circumstances helped ensure a brush fire didn’t get out of control during a windstorm last Wednesday.

Around 5pm, Jason Alexander went to water his lawn where he lives in Cedarside about 4km south of Valemount. He had his 3400 gallon freightliner roll-off truck with the water tank attached in order to do the watering. It was lucky the water was attached that day. He uses the truck at his cedar mill for fire protection, but it can be used for other purposes as well. When he went into his yard, he noticed smoke coming from about 500 yards away.

“Wind like that, and fire and the dry…”

Alexander’s friend helped coil water lines, then they drove around to the site of the blaze and started spraying water. The powerline above the fire was still sparking. Alexander estimates the fire was about an acre wide. Luckily the wind was blowing from the north. The fire was in the trees right next to the Valemount Community Forest cut block and within 100 feet of a resident’s property. Luckily the wind was blowing in the other direction. His hose didn’t quite reach the far end of the fire.

“It’s pretty dry. If it’d been blowing from the south, it wouldn’t have stopped. It would have blown right into the Virgoe’s trees,” Alexander said.

The Valemount Community Forest and several more local residents arrived on scene to help contain the fire. Soon after, the Valemount Volunteer Fire Department arrived. Assistant Fire Chief Dean Schneider said the fire department had to haul water from town, since there was no water source nearby, but they quickly had the fire under control. He says the fire was believed to have started by a tree landing on a power line causing sparks and igniting the dry underbrush. The fire was then accelerated by the wind storm.

Valemount Community Forest manager Craig Pryor says the fire got into the fringes of the cut block before it was under control. Schneider says the logging that was done last winter by the community forest was actually a help in that it created a fire break and reduced the fuel load.

The fire department handed over the mop-up duties to provincial forest firefighting crews at around 7 pm. Schneider says they notify the provincial crews of all wildfires and they often work together. Both crews responded to another brush fire around the same time near Pine Road, also caused by a tree on a powerline.

Alexander says the fires are a reminder to everyone about the danger of forest fires.

“It’s a good wake up call,” Alexander says. “It’s got everyone thinking about fire season.”

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