CFB Suffield plans to meet with residents affected by a massive grass fire

By Leah Murray
September 15, 2017 - 5:47pm Updated: September 15, 2017 - 7:02pm


SUFFIELD, AB — CFB Suffiled is responding to the outrage expressed by residents in a rural area north of Medicine Hat.

On Monday, a massive grass fire burnt up around 90,000 acres of land on the base, community pasture and land within Special Areas.

It was sparked Monday after military personnel on the base detonated an unexploded military ordnance.

Officials say the artillery shell, left over from a military training exercise, needed to be destroyed so nearby oil and gas infrastructure could be serviced.

The blaze killed 160 cattle, destroyed feeding grounds, animal feed, crops and an entire farm.

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Onieu, base commander of CFB Suffield, said the base acknowledges the damage that’s been caused.

“We're a difficult neighbour to have in your neighbourhood by nature of what we do,” said Onieu. “Then when you take an incident like this it's very frustrating, and the amount of devastation and loss here is significant.”

Many in the Bindloss area wonder why it was deemed appropriate to set off the ordnance at a time when many fire bans are in place.

They also want to know what precautionary measures were taken, and why it took so long to call in assistance when it got out of control.

In response the base said it is going to launch a board of inquiry investigation into the fire. It will be conducted by an external party so it will be transparent and wide spread.

“It will involve people testifying under oath so it is quite a lengthy process,” said Onieu. “But, I think it will provide all the information we want and will give me the transparency that I need to answer the questions about this incident.”

Some residents who attended a community meeting in Bindloss Thursday asked why representatives from CFB Suffield weren’t there.

Onieu said they were invited, but he was not there and they were told the meeting would be rescheduled. He adds it’s a meeting that needs to happen.

“We're hoping that they will invite us to come to a meeting where we can attend and we're going to make that happen, because I think we need to have that conversation,” he said.

The investigation will also provide recommendations on what the base can do to help prevent disasters like this in the future.

“We're very keen to implement anything that the investigation will find,” said Onieu.

CFB Suffield said anyone making a claim against the base will need to file the claim with the crown.

Insurance companies should do that for their clients, those without insurance will need to do it themselves.

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