Military base makes fire aftermath promises

Canadian Forces Base Suffield is taking steps to be a better neighbour after causing a fire last fall that destroyed livestock, pasture, feed, fences and outbuildings outside the base.

The Sept. 11-12 blaze, started when base personnel detonated an artillery shell during dry, windy conditions, burned about 90,000 of acres to the north and east of the base. It killed or maimed more than 100 cattle near Bindloss, Alta, and destroyed the home of an 89-year-old rancher.

Ten months after the fire, most ranchers affected have yet to be compensated for losses.

CFB commander Mike Onieu, in a July 20 letter to the community, said the federal Department of National Defence had received 15 claims related to the fire, two of which he said have been finalized.

“The department has offered interim payments to seven claimants while their claims are still being analyzed,” Onieu said.

“A claims adjuster has been contracted by the department and is currently working with claimants in assessing their claims and providing the information necessary to process them.”

As for other efforts, Onieu said the base has improved communication with the community beyond its former practice of issuing public notices before military training exercises.

Now it plans to use social media to post information about activities that are visible to neighbours, and if danger is imminent, it will notify people via cellphone. Onieu said a cellphone notification system has been tested “with very positive results.”

The commander also said the base will augment its existing training and fire response with better equipment, more fire-fighting training for soldiers and revisions to the base fire mitigation plan.

As well, it will have “increased constraints on when and how unexploded ordnance will be disposed of.”

A community meeting last year, held shortly after the fire, brought widespread criticism of CFB Suffield’s relationship with its neighbours, and Onieu said he took it seriously.

“We are endeavouring to be better neighbours through communication and demonstrable improvements to the way we operate,” he said.

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