MEDICINE HAT, AB —It’s been a hectic few weeks for firefighters in southeastern Alberta.
Fire crews have been working almost non-stop fighting several massive wildfires.
Fires have affected areas near Bindloss, Hilda, Acadia Valley, Jenner, several areas in Saskatchewan and even here in Medicine Hat.
The grass fires have been fanned by strong winds which have exceeded 100 kilometres an hour, and fueled by tinder dry fields.
“The fire behaviour, the wind... we’ve never seen anything like it before,” Said Cypress County deputy fire chief John McBain. “It’s hell, basically.”
There are 140 volunteer firefighters in Cypress County. McBain said they’ve been working countless hours because of all the fires.
Crews are still working in the Hilda area a week after that fire broke out.
“They’ve been going strong all day every day,” McBain explained. “Lots of flare-ups [happening].”
Cypress County hasn’t been alone in the fight against the fast moving fires. Firefighters and trucks from areas in Saskatchewan and Medicine Hat have responded to the calls for help.
“We’ve been quite busy with our wildfires, especially with the last few wind storms,” said Lieutenant Scott Berg with the Medicine Hat Fire Department. “We’ve combined forces with Cypress County and other surrounding communities.”
All the fires are wearing on firefighters, especially the volunteers.
“Everyday with the wind blowing it’s just endless,” McBain described. “It’s nothing like we’ve ever seen before, it’s beyond extreme.”
And while they are out fighting the fires, not far from their minds is the fact one of the fires claimed the life of a firefighter from Walsh.
James Hargrave died on October 17th in an accident in his water truck while fighting the blaze that started near Hilda.
The loss is a reminder of just how dangerous the job can be.
“We’re one big family really, we work side by side constantly and when we lose one... yeah that hits home, really really bad.” said Platoon Chief Joe Greenan with the Medicine Hat Fire Service
Hargrave will be laid to rest following a funeral Friday October 27th. Thousands are expected to pay their respects to the fallen firefighter.
In the meantime, McBain said firefighters still have to fight fires when they break out, and it’s a job they will continue to do with pride.
“It’s weighing heavily on everyone’s hearts, but in the end they have a job to do and they’ll do that out of respect for James, and carry on,” he said.
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