Armed Forces base must take responsibility for devastating fire

It is a case where good fences do not make good neighbours.

In the case of Canadian Forces Base Suffield in southern Alberta and the ranchers whose land borders it, good fences have become barriers to amicable relationships.

Tensions that date back some 30 or 40 years came to a head the night of Sept. 11. A fire started on the base, burned about 74,000 acres of federal land and then burned an estimated 16,000 acres of community pasture and private land.

One elderly rancher lost his home, buildings and equipment. Others lost an estimated 120 head of cattle, bales, stored feed and winter pasture. About 40 residents in the path of the fire fled their homes when a local state of emergency was declared.

But for the intervention of numerous fire departments and personnel who came from miles around, the prairie fire could have done even more damage.

As it was, it left in its wake numerous dead and dying cattle that had been unable to outrun the wind-driven blaze, which licked up tinder-dry grass and sagebrush.

Seldom do tough and independent ranchers cry, but the sight of those animals and the need to put some out of their misery drove more than a few to tears. Now they face the grim tasks of carcass disposal, fence replacement and figuring out how to feed and winter their cattle.

CFB Suffield has admitted the fire started on the base after personnel set off unexploded ordinance as a safety measure. Its own fire service fought the fire but was unable to control it.

When the fire did spread, army personnel did not help to fight it on private land and, according to reports from volunteer fire fighters, even hindered the efforts of others through blind adherence to protocol.

This fire is the most egregious incident involving CFB Suffield and its neighbours. Local ranchers say they’ve lost count of the number of fires started on the base that either threaten or have affected community pastures or private land. It is a constant source of stress.

As well, the base has long been loath to effectively reduce the massive elk herd on its property that has adversely affected ranchers, though in fairness, that responsibility is not all theirs.

Training of Canadian armed forces is important and necessary for the protection of this country and its role in global relations. CFB Suffield is an important resource in those goals.

But while it trains soldiers to protect people in other countries, it should also protect its immediate neighbours. That it fails to do so seems ridiculous.

The base bears responsibility for this fire and the damage it caused. Compensation for those who sustained losses is required.

No one lost their lives in last week’s fire, but it was a near thing.

Beyond the serious literal and figurative fence mending required, CFB Suffield must review its protocols and accept its responsibility to be a good neighbour.

Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod, D’Arce McMillan and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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  • Harold

    David Johnston is the Governor General of Canada and is the Commander in Chief of the military, so he IS RESPONSIBLE for what happened at the Canadian Forces Base Suffield. I don’t know where you’re going with your warm and fuzzy ideas of “good neighbor” and “fence mending” and “blind adherence to protocol” and “taking responsibility” other than the fact that you haven’t a clue of what the military is.
    In the highest degree, if the military protocol is to shoot your Canadian ass – they shoot your ass – and it is not murder – it is doing the job that they were trained to do; nothing warm and fuzzy about it. There is nothing romantic about the office of the military unless you’ve watched too much TV. “Romance”, if I can use the term, puts the military in harm’s way. The personnel are sworn to a different set of rules than you and I and when they do not react, it is because they have been previously sworn or ordered not to – making the commander in chief responsible. The military have their own court system and it is separate from ours so your belief system is not the same as theirs. For the damages; send them (Governor General) the bill. To be clear, the Governor General does not do the work; on the way down from the top – his staff does the work. The responsible are always responsible and take responsibility when they receive the bill. The courts are used when they don’t pay. The governor general (office of) is the royal assent to every law that we have so it would be very difficult for him to ignore civilian Laws.


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