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COLUMN: Have a care and be fire-aware

It is imperative that local residents be fire-aware when travelling through dry grasslands or tinder dry mountain forest vistas.

Over the past week, wildfires in Alberta have displaced 30,000 residents from their homes, have done untold property damage, and dealt devastating blows to local wildlife and natural areas. 

When such tragedies confront us, it really is important to put partisanship aside and address the immediate needs of those who are suffering. I applaud our provincial politicians for doing just that when it comes to this tragedy, despite being in the midst of a tightly fought election campaign.

Having said that, it is still very dry out there in many areas of the province, and indeed in areas near Airdrie and Rocky View County. It would be terrible if the scenes we have already witnessed in other parts of the province visited us here through human carelessness.

It is imperative that local residents be fire-aware when travelling through dry grasslands or tinder dry mountain forest vistas. Please put those cigarettes out in internal ashtrays instead of pitching them out the window. Avoid burning refuse on windy days. Don’t light campfires, and avoid driving whenever possible over grassy trails with motor vehicles whose heated undercarriages can trigger grass fires.

It’s not only properties at stake or the potential for a devastating toll on local livestock and wildlife – people’s lives can be put in jeopardy by wildfires.

Two of the most memorable and horrific events I have covered as a reporter were the devastating wildfires near Maple Creek in 2012 and the even more devastating wildfires near Hilda in 2017. Travelling through those burned out wastelands to take photos for the newspapers I worked for, I witnessed the destruction of farms, fields and livestock.

It was like an uncontrolled demon was unleashed upon the earth to blacken, destroy and kill everything in its path. Red horizons of fire seem like false sunsets glowing against the night sky. Haystacks burn white hot due to powerful winds, looking like blow torches in the night through the suffocating smoke. 

In Maple Creek, thankfully, no human life was lost, but local herds of cattle lay burnt and blackened on the ground. 

Tragically, the same couldn't be said in Hilda, where Walsh-area volunteer firefighter, rancher and young father James Hargrave lost his life in the line of duty. I had briefly met James at an event about a year before the tragedy, and later spoke to his wife about the devastating loss her family and children experienced when they established a legacy fund in his honour.

Maybe there is nothing that can be done about such tragedies when drought, wind, and lightning combine to create a merciless inferno. But when one hears about such fires coming to be lit through human ignorance or carelessness, it is inexcusable.

Recent rains in the Calgary region have done much to mitigate the wildfire risk locally, but the rain has not fallen equally everywhere. We must continue to be vigilant and cautious so as not to be responsible for more suffering, devastation or potential tragedy.

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