ROCKY VIEW COUNTY – Rocky View Fire Services are continuing to investigate a wildfire that shut down Highway 1A Thursday (April 1) afternoon.
The fire forced evacuations from Ghost Station Gas Bar, the Wildcat Hills Gas Plant and from two homes, said Rocky View Deputy Fire Chief Gary Barnett.
Fighting the blaze was especially difficult due to the extreme wind's firefighters faced. Barnett said the noise made communication challenging, as firefighters fought to predict the path of the fire.
Crews from Rocky View County, Exshaw, Cochrane, Benchlands, Stoney Nakoda First Nation, Madden and Redwood Meadows responded to the fire and at one point here was around 20 pieces of apparatus and 65 firefighters on the scene.
“Everyone did exactly what they needed to do and it was a very good outcome in the end,” Barnett said. “It was a good job all round and some hard work by pretty much every fire department in the region.”
Fire Services is continuing to monitor the area and is checking for potential fires to the south of the gas station twice a day. Crews were able to save all homes in the area, but one home did experience some damage that will be repairable, Barnett said.
“The house was actually saved, that was an awesome job from a firefighter from Nakoda [Fire] and Redwood Meadows,” Barnett said. “They stopped it from being lost. It was pretty brutal on the edge of that ravine with the wind and the fire coming up.”
Barnett praised homeowners in the area for fire smarting their properties, which helped limit the spread of flames.
AJ Rivard and his wife Blaire’s family home was in the middle of the blaze. While it is still standing, it experienced a severe fire, smoke and water damage.
A GoFundMe has been launched to help in their recovery from the fire.
“It’s just torched – it looks like an apocalyptic scene in the middle of the valley,” Rivard said. “The whole valley was red all over with flames coming up.”
The family ranch, known as Eagle Creek Ranch, has been located on the south side of Highway 1A since the early 2000s.
Rivard and Blaire have been living at the ranch for the past year taking care of the home.
The pair was at work when the fire broke out. Blaire was able to make it home just in time to rescue their two dogs Leia and Grizzly, before being forced to evacuate the area.
“I was in a meeting and my wife called me, and I couldn’t even understand her because she was hyperventilating because of what she saw in front of her,” Rivard said. “I jumped in my truck when she called and raced out of the city to try and get back as quick as I could, but it was pretty much too late at that point.”
The duo has a brood of chickens and a team of ducks at the ranch that were saved by the fire department and RCMP. The animals were safely stored at Ghost Station and they were able to pick them up Thursday night when they were able to return home.
The Rivards have been able to survey the damage left by the fire. There is a big hole in the roof of the cabin, the deck was scorched, the garage was scorched and the basement was flooded with water.
It will take time to recover, he said, explaining the roof will need to be completely repaired, and new flooring and drywall will be needed.
Rivard said he is grateful to the first responders who fought the fire because they were able to save a good portion of the house at the ranch.
“We’re just grateful for anybody who is donating on the GoFundMe and we’re just glad that everyone is alright, including the animals,” Rivard said. “Human life can’t be replaced, but everything else can be.”
Fire inspector Jeff Avery said Cochrane Fire Services was called in after the grass fire began to provide mutual aid providing a bush buggy to help contain the blaze.
“Kudos to Rocky View because they did an excellent job getting that fire out considering the winds they were up against," he said. "They did just an outstanding job.”
He praised the work of a helicopter for navigating the high-speed winds and making a huge difference in battling the blaze by bombing water to douse the flames.
The blaze came within 10 kilometres of Cochrane, he said, but there was never a threat of evacuation in the Town.
A fire ban was put in place for Cochrane and Rocky View County Thursday after the wildfire started.
“We definitely did not want to put a fire ban on going into the long weekend, but the property and residents of Cochrane are absolutely our No. 1 priority, so unfortunately, we did have to put the fire ban in place,” Avery said.
Fires can become dangerous quickly especially in strong winds, which can be a concern in Cochrane as the Town is surrounded by grasslands.
“Grassfire season is really the perfect storm for Cochrane because we can get it coming from any direction. We just have to be super careful," Avery said.
“We need days of rain to green everything up and then we can lessen the fire ban. There’s not a lick of green grass anywhere. We’re in the perfect storm right now, so we have to be extremely diligent in what we do.”