By The Canadian Press
May 16, 2008, Bruderheim, Alta. - Firefighters across a wide swath of north-central Alberta were abruptly pressed into service Thursday when different blazes erupted in several counties.
By The Canadian Press
The largest, a massive brush and forest fire near Bruderheim, Alta., destroyed one rural residence that was believed to be unoccupied; burned some out-buildings, tractors, crops and timber; and forced the evacuation of about a dozen people. There were no reports of injuries.
High winds and warm temperatures fanned all the blazes.
Joanna Byers of Alberta Sustainable Resource said the fire near Bruderheim, northeast of Edmonton, covered about 2.5 square kilometres.
The next largest was in the County of Athabasca, at the north end of Long Lake, and covered two square kilometres while two fires near Opal in the County of Thorhild had spread over 2.5 square kilometres and less than one square kilometres respectively.
Byers said a couple of homes were being protected by fire crews near Opal.
There were also smaller blazes _ one of eight hectares in the County of Lac la Biche and one of six hectares in the County of Woodland.
Byers said the causes of the fires were still being investigated, but she said that both ground and air crews were quickly dispatched where needed.
“When you have such high fire hazards, when you're looking at high winds, warming temperatures, and have already seen the grass … drying out, we're always ready and prepared for extreme fire behaviour,'' she said.
Shell's Scotford refinery is near Bruderheim, but company spokesman Randy Provencal said the wind was blowing in the other direction and there appeared to be no threat.
Ken Jones, deputy fire chief with Strathcona County Emergency Services, said the fire near Bruderheim did pass over the location of “a few petroleum above-ground facilities, such as pump jacks.''
He said two companies had been contacted.
“We did have one small incident related to some gas that was on fire at a particular wellhead. Think of it as fire from a valve contained to the actual well site itself, no risk to the public, no toxic gas released.''
He said the small blaze was quickly extinguished, and the Energy Resources Conservation Board had been notified to alert any petroleum companies in the area.
“Some were able to come to the area to confirm there was no damage, others are able to simply shut in their wells and the fire will not largely affect them,'' said Jones.
As of 11 p.m. MDT Thursday, the Bruderheim blaze was still not under control but Jones said there was no danger to people in the community of 1,200.
“There's no reason to have concern for the residents of Bruderheim unless they have concerns over smoke or if it is bothering them,'' he said.
“The hazard to the public is primarily one of smoke at this point, but the area is not safe to re-enter.''
He said the county was being assisted by nearby counties and Sustainable Resource Development, which provided helicopter reconnaissance and advisers.
“We're moving heavy equipment to the upwind side of the fire as the fire has a tendency to burn a little back upwind,'' he explained. “You wouldn't think it would burn back against the wind, but it does.''
He also said that one area farmer moved about a dozen horses to safety but added there were no other reports of animals or livestock being hurt.
Jones also said fire officials now believe the Bruderheim blaze was “human-caused,'' adding that RCMP are investigating that angle.
“We ask people to be very cautious,'' he said. “With all the winds and the spring conditions, where grass hasn't greened up enough … it's very easy to start a fire.''
He said at the time this fire started, burning was not allowed in Strathcona County.