BINDLOSS, AB – It was one year ago on Tuesday that a gusting wind carried flames from CFB Suffield towards farms and ranches near the community of Bindloss.
The images of fire sweeping across fields are etched in the memories of ranchers Alan and Laurel Schlaht, who live just south of the hamlet.
On September 11, 2017, a military ordinance exploded on the base which sparked the massive blaze and took a major toll on the Schlahts’ land.
Alan said the fire destroyed their winter field and resulted in the shrinking of their shared community pasture.
“Right after the fire everyday we had to look at it,” said Alan. “Where we were feeding our cows, what was left of our winter field, everyday you had to look at it. And, it does wear on a fella.”
The Schlaht family is not alone, as 90,000 acres were burned and 160 head of cattle were killed in the fire.
A farm belonging to Morley Sarvis was completely destroyed nearby the Schlaht property, meaning a move to Oyen for the 90-year-old.
Efforts to rebuild have been difficult for residents, with little to no compensation being offered by the federal government in the year since.
Alan said he’s been frustrated with the claims processes after being given the runaround for the last 12 months.
“Nice people, but just didn’t know anything about agriculture,” he said. “And, it was frustrating trying to explain our situation to them.”
To date, only two claims have been finalized by the Department of National Defence, who are managing the claims process after the fire.
The Schlahts were one of seven families to accept small interim payments from the government, but Alan said nothing has been resolved.
“I just don’t want to be shuffled off to another person again,” he said. “I want it done with and it would be nice to get our lives back on track again.”
Those accepting the interim payments have reportedly been asked to sign documents to keep all details of the claims confidential.
CFB Suffield has accepted responsibility for the fire, with Lt.-Col. Mike Onieu stating in a letter to the community this summer they’re acting on 17 recommendations made to the base.
They include better equipping and training soldiers who fight grass fires, strengthened communication between the base and local fire departments, revisions to the base’s fire mitigation plan, a notification system for area residents, and preparatory work on new fire breaks.
Laurel said while they’re still upset at the base for creating the fire in the first place, they’re glad to see an effort made to make sure something similar doesn’t happen again.
“He seems to understand the problem and he’s trying to follow the recommendations,” said Laurel. “But, he can only do so much because Ottawa is in charge now.”
However, the Schlahts feel they’re being let down and forgotten about by their elected representatives.
According to Laurel, politicians in Medicine Hat have taken more of an interest in their case compared to their representatives in MP Kevin Sorenson and MLA Rick Strankman.
“I talked to Glen Motz and he said that he would speak for us in Ottawa and he doesn’t even represent our area, and Drew Barnes has been awesome,” she said. “For some reason, our own politicians have failed us.”
CHAT News reached out to both Sorenson and Strankman, but they did not return our calls on Tuesday.
One year later the community remains frustrated, but Alan said he’s hopeful the second year of recovery will be better than the first.
“I think back to what my mother used to say,” he said. “She says, ‘Well, people that wait, good things happen to them.’ So, we’ve been waiting a year, so I’m hoping something good is going to happen here.”
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