CFB SUFFIELD – Canadian Forces Base Suffield is implementing several changes following a grass fire in September that caused significant damage to surrounding communities.
On September 11, disposal of a military ordnance at CFB Suffield sparked the blaze, which burned around 90,000 acres of land.
There were no injuries, but the fire destroyed a farm, killed 160 head of cattle, and burned crops, feed and pasture.
Base Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Onieu, requested a Board of Inquiry report to determine the exact cause of the fire and offer recommendations to prevent future disasters.
“Since the very day the fire started and was put out, we have actively been working to improve and prevent or mitigate the risk of this happening again,” said Onieu.
The report is not being made public as it’s protected under litigation privilege, but Onieu shared some of the details of the report.
There were 17 recommendations made in the report, the base said most were around procedure and policies when it comes to fire fighting and fire mitigation.
Other recommendations include implementing a fire mitigation plan, putting in fire guards around the base and prioritizing the disposal of military ordnance.
One of the other big recommendations is to improve communication and coordination with surrounding communities when high risk activities or emergencies happen on the base.
That was one of the biggest issues residents had when it came to dealing with the CFB Suffield.
“People have been trying forever but there's been zero [communication] in the past, like nothing,” said Bindloss Fire Chief Cresten Andersen. “Our house shakes when the bombs go off and that's how we know something's happening, then we see the smoke.”
The base said it has already started to implement some of the recommendations, and Andersen said residents and firefighters are happy to see that happen.
“Our County, Special Areas and the military, they're getting the radio frequencies changed so we can have direct radio contact with them, which is awesome,” Andersen explained.
The Bindloss Fire Chief said their firefighters have also taken required courses in order to get onto the base to help fight fires that get our of control. The decision to bring on civilians in those instances is still up to the Base Commander.
Now that the official report is complete, the military will begin processing damage claims from residents impacted by the fire.
Anderson, who also lost land and feed in the blaze said residents are frustrated by how long this process is taking, adding they're worried about the claim process too.
“There's basically really no answers yet,” he explained. “Like sure, we're going to get compensation sometime, but ‘when?’ is the big question.”
There’s also concern around figuring out how to estimate the value of land destroyed in the fire and Anderson fears the affected land may never return to the way it was.
“Once we sign that paper it’s done. If that land is still affected 10 years down the road there’s no going back,” he said.
“There is mega top soil gone [in the burnt areas], and in places there’s no top soil,” Andersen said as he explained the erosion of the burnt land. “To get top soil back takes years, and years, and years, and years.”
CFB Suffield said there is no time line for when they expect claims will be settled. They’ve hired on an adjuster to help with the process. There’s also no information on how much money the military is anticipating they will have to pay out to affected land owners.
Lt.Col. Onieu said there are still a lot of questions and it will still take a lot of time for the changes and recommendations to be fully implemented, but they are trying to do the right thing and mend fences with their neighbours.
“As a personal goal for us,” Onieu stated. “We will ensure the community surrounding Suffield, is able to live without the constant fear that fires on the base are going to escape and damage their property.
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