Alberta ag minister visits the big burn

Producers near Hilda, Alta., tell Oneil Carlier that recovery from last year’s wildfire has begun, but it will be slow

The area near Hilda, Alta., that burned last fall in a wildfire is no longer black but damage to pasture and cropland remains evident.

Andy Kirschenman, whose family sustained crop, equipment and building losses in the fire, including his parents’ home, said recovery has begun but it will be slow.

“It’s hurt, you can tell,” he said about the land. “We’re going to definitely have a yield penalty in the first year and most likely probably for the next five or 10, all depending on moisture. But even with adequate moisture there was a lot of damage done to the soil. I think we’re just starting to realize how much there was, as we walk the crops.”

Kirschenman and other area residents gave a tour of the area June 11 to Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier, who saw burned yards, fields and grasslands eight months after the event.

“The most dramatic, of course, are the buildings, the house that I saw,” Carlier said in a later interview.

“Otherwise things have recovered somewhat since then. You could see a different colour of green…. Mother Nature will recover. It’s going to take some time.

“One of the big things I got from the visit was, some of the things are just not repairable. This was a traumatic event. If you lose your house and all your belongings, your mementos, your keepsakes from all of your ancestors … that’s tragic.”

Carlier did not offer further financial assistance to those affected, although he said county officials inquired about what else might be available.

The province has provided interest-free loans to a maximum of $25,000 per applicant but few of those contacted at the time it was announced Dec. 20, 2017, felt that was adequate.

Kirschenman said he wasn’t expecting any announcements connected to the minister’s visit.

“There’s definitely a need for more assistance, I think, but we’re a community and we’re a vocation that does things on our own as well. So there’s kind of a balance to be struck,” he said.

The Hilda area fire burned an estimated 75,000 acres on Oct. 17, and was one of several damaging blazes last fall. Dry conditions and high winds contributed to the damage.

The region remains dry so far this year, said Kirschenman. Carlier acknowledged that concern as well.

“I’m hoping that we have a good year down in that part of the country. It’s a naturally dry part of the province, obviously, but I’m hoping that things will continue to recover and especially the farming families that were affected.”

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