Live-fire training begins, risks are real in military training area

By Ashley Wiebe
May 17, 2018 - 4:45pm Updated: May 17, 2018 - 6:59pm

 

CFB SUFFIELD — May marks the beginning of live-fire training at Canadian Forces Base Suffield.

Hundreds of soldiers are on the battle grounds, learning new skills and testing their weapons.

The rumblings of a tank firing off a round can be felt in Medicine Hat.

Members with the British Army Training Unit Suffield began Exercise Prairie Storm 1 earlier this month. It’s the first of several training missions this year.

“We’ve got about 2,000 troops out here and they’re exercising to prepare them to go into NATO’s front line,” said BATUS commander Colonel Marcus Evans. “They’re preparing for war.”

“This is a 32 day exercise for British forces and units in the British army, to come here as part of their training readiness cycle, to then go on to subsequent deployment operations overseas,” said Major Alex Mills, Senior Operations Officer with BATUS.

The risks are real, but one threat which has ranchers and farmers on edge is an out of control grass fire.

Fire ripped through the Bindloss area last fall. Property was lost and more than 100 cattle died.

The base has made changes since the September fire and have placed more of an emphasis on fire training this year.

“Inevitably there will be, especially during the summer exercise season here on the prairie, risk of fire and risk to the prairie setting on fire,” Mills said.

“We do use ammunition types that will set fire to the grass,” Evans added. “If there’s too many fires, we’ll reduce the number of ammunition types that will set fire to it.”

Grass fires are common in the military training area, which makes up about 1,600 square kilometers.

A small fire was sparked during a media tour of the battle ground on Wednesday. Military crews were quick to extinguish it.

Roughly 400 military personnel are trained firefighters, and will use beaters and leaf blowers to battle blazes.

“We’ll put out a fire as soon as we see it,” Evans said. “[On Tuesday] me and my driver helped put out a fire, for instance, just near by.”

“I’m really confident in the team we’ve got here and we will, where we can, intervene to stop fires ‘cause it’s so important that we protect it. We’re guests of the prairie here,” Mills added. “The British Army Training Unit Suffield has been here since 1972 and we want that to continue, that relationship with the local community.”

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