Carseland, Alberta — A rare winter grass fire fuelled by gusty winds and tinder dry conditions in southern Alberta briefly forced 400 Carseland residents from their homes Thursday.
Eight fire crews were called in to contain the blaze, which threatened the edge of the hamlet and closed a section of the highway, 50 kilometres south of Calgary. Strathmore rural fire chief Mark Heilman said the fire started in a flare pit where excess gas is burned off. He did not know which company owned the flare pit.
No one was injured and no buildings were damaged but about 31 square kilometres of land was burned.
About 90 children at the hamlet’s school were taken to the local golf course to await their parents when the evacuation order was given after noon. Other evacuees went to a recreation centre in nearby Strathmore.
Angela Kabotoff, 27, said she got a call from the school saying her nine-year old daughter was being moved to safety.
“It scared the crap out of me. Your whole life passes before your eyes when you think about evacuating the kids,” she said.
Strathmore deputy fire Chief Roy Jorawsky said the gusty conditions had crews on edge.
“With the wind blowing the way it was, our concern was that if even a single house in town caught on fire we could easily have lost the whole town,” he said.
“It was probably 10 feet from getting in the town,” added Heilman, who said 11 fire departments worked together on the incident.
By late afternoon, the crews had the blaze under control, said Susan Brownlee, emergency information officer for Wheatland County.
“The evacuation notice has been lifted. The people can go home,” said Brownlee.
“The fire is under control, just a couple of hot spots. They’ve tested the air quality and there’s no smoke down there anymore.”
Much of Alberta has had little to no snow this winter, along with warmer than normal temperatures.
Brownlee said the white stuff has been all but nonexistent in their area.
“A skiff here and a skiff there but very little,” she said.
Alberta Sustainable Resources put out a release Thursday warning of dry conditions and noting there was a much higher wildfire risk than usual for this time of year.
“Our staff have already responded to more than 50 wildfires since the wildfire season has ended,” David Coutts, minister of sustainable resources, said in the release.
In December 1997, a fire brought on by warm, dry conditions and strong winds cut a black swath through nearly 240 square kilometres of Prairie grassland.
It forced a brief evacuation of Granum, a small farming community of 350 people about 120 kilometres south of Calgary.