Minister tours Hilda area nearly 8 months after devastating wildfires

By Leah Murray
June 11, 2018 - 6:11pm Updated: June 11, 2018 - 7:08pm

 

HILDA, AB – It’s been nearly eight months since wildfires tore through the communities of Hilda and Acadia Valley.

On Monday Agricultural Minister Oneil Carlier toured the area near Hilda for the first time.

The fire destroyed over 40,000 hectares of land in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Firefighter James Hargrave lost his life fighting the blaze. A few homes and several dozen cattle were also destroyed in the fire.

“The circumstances at the time were prefect for a bad thing to happen and that's what happened,” said Carlier. “It was extremely dry, it was windy and that's how the fires here in Alberta and in Saskatchewan caused the devastation it did cause.”

Andy Kirschenman saw the homestead on his family’s property go up in flames. Recovery is under way and the home is in the process of being rebuilt.

Kirschenman said one of the biggest concerns farmers and ranchers had was soil errosion following the blaze. He said the heavier than usual snow fall this winter and colder temperatures helped to keep much of the top soil from blowing away.

While the Minister’s visit is late, he said they are glad he made the time to come and see the area first hand.

“There's not the stark contrast of bare soil and burned soil compared to the grass land and everything anymore, but there are things that we're able to show him,” Kirschenman explained.

A fire also destroyed farm land and cattle near Acadia Valley. The blaze was sparked after strong winds snapped power poles and the lines started a grass fire.

Brent Williams, Chief Administrative Officer for the M.D. of Acadia, said while much of the land has greened up with the recent rain, you can still see how the fire affected the land.

“It's pretty apparent that the devastation is still there,” said Williams. “If [the Minister] looks closely at the crop land too, that's supposed to be growing right now and a lot of it's not doing quite as well as it should be.”

Williams said he’d like to see greater support for farmers and ranchers.

The province has provided a one time $200,000 grant to be split among those impacted by the fires. It’s also provided two-year interest free loans of $25,000. A $200,000 grant has also been provided to the University of Alberta to study the soil recovery.

Williams said $25,000 loan isn’t much money when you’re looking at replacing farm equipment. He said that money could be spent on just a set of tires for a combine.

“$25,000 is kind of a drop in the bucket for a lot of these people,” Williams said.

He spoke to Minister Carlier about extending the deadline for the loans, which came to an end in March, and increasing the loans to $100,000 with an interest free period of five years instead of two.

Carlier said for now there are no plans of offering further financial assistance to those impacted by the fires.

The one thing he said he was open to discussing was policy changes.

Andy Kirschenman said he and the Hilda Wildfire Committee would like to see some changes made to how the government handles disasters like this in the future.

The Hilda area farmer said he’d like to see a framework on how to manage the aftermath and how to ensure the people affected get assistance as quickly as possible.

“[Having] $200,000 to $500,000 thousand dollars available for five years of interest free financing that would just automatically kick in for those who applied for it who are in a disaster,” he explained. “Not something that has to wait three or four months for an announcement.”

“Maybe we should look at policies in place that we can be much more proactive,” Carlier mused. “perhaps [having] policies in place that will assist farmers and ranchers, whatever that disaster might be, that will work best for them.”

Damage left in Acadia Valley following weekend wind storm