HILDA, AB – Memories of fire, smoke, and wind are still etched into the minds of many in the Hilda area.
That includes ranchers Ken and Sherry Kundert, who remember back to that warm evening on October 17, 2017.
“As soon as we see smoke in the sky, whether it's dust or smoke, we kind of panic,” said Sherry.
One year ago, a blaze ignited near the village that swept across 40,000 hectares of land in Alberta and Saskatchewan that resulted in the destruction of homes, farmland, and livestock.
While Ken raced to help fight the fire that evening, Sherry evacuated to Dunmore not knowing the fate of either the ranch or her husband.
“Didn't really know if the yard had burned until the next morning when I talked to Ken, and I really didn't know where he was,” she said.
The Kunderts were hit hard by the blaze, losing around 140 cows and calves along with a big chunk of their grazing land.
Ken said many of the cows were still alive when he returned to the ranch in the morning and had to made an extremely difficult call.
“Having to go out and shoot your own cows and calves because they're so burnt, it's just something you won't ever forget,” said Ken.
Twelve months later, locals have since returned to their fields and are looking to restore some sense of normalcy.
That includes farmer and Hilda and Community Association president Andy Kirschenman, who was combining his canola crop on Tuesday.
He said the Hilda fire was devastating for his family and it’s something they’re still trying to climb back from.
“My parents, they lost their house in the fire,” said Kirschenman. “There's some days we don't think about the fire at all, and there's some days that you think about it.”
But with the backing of the community, the Kirschenman family home is under construction and is rising from the ashes.
It’s one sign of Hilda bouncing back from the fire, which Sherry said doesn’t happen without the support of one another.
“It just pulled the whole community together it seemed like and it's been that way so far,” she said.
Members of the community were able to meet on Sunday, taking part in a prayer meeting to discuss the impact of the blaze.
However, Kirschenman said beyond the prayer meeting there are no major plans for the community to mark the one-year anniversary.
“People were more interested I think moving on, rather than dwelling in the past from a year ago,” he said.
Back in January, the provincial government announced they would provide interest-free loans of $25,000 to affected fire victims, along with a pool of $200,000 for the community to share.
With the anniversary of the blaze passing, many in the community say it’s not enough according to Kirschenman.
“I think what frustrates lots of us is we see where money is given to projects that seem quite honestly completely useless,” he said. “And, we had to fight quite hard to get any sort of government funding.”
The Kunderts are trying to get their head of cattle back to pre-fire levels, but they admit it’s a difficult financial burden on their operation.
Moving forward, Sherry said they’re hoping their community and their story won’t be forgotten.
“Whether it's the Hilda community, the friends, the family, the government, it has put Hilda in their eye,” she said. “And, hopefully they'll wake up to agriculture and see our needs in the future.”
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