Rebuilding from the ashes

Cal Wellman lost his barn, corral, tractor and winter feed in the fire that devastated parts of southwestern Alberta earlier this month, but by some miracle his house did not burn. He said he has been overwhelmed with the community support in helping clean up the fire aftermath and rebuild fence so he can winter his cattle.  |  Barb Glen photo

WATERTON, Alta. — The new posts and shiny barbed wire stand in stark contrast to the scorched earth beneath them.

This is fence that will allow ranchers in southwestern Alberta to begin recovering from a devastating wildfire that burned five properties and has eaten an estimated 90,000 acres of ranchland, forest and national park.

However, this sturdy new fence also symbolizes the way neighbours help neighbours in rural Alberta.

“When you’ve got neighbours like this, it makes things a lot easier,” said Cal Wellman, a rancher who lost his barns, tractor, fences, 250 tons of hay and more than two sections of grass.

“I’m astounded that so many people came out. This is just absolutely amazing. These people have come out to support us.… They’re building the fences all back up today. It’s going to be an awful difference here in just two days. I’m astounded at how many people showed up, really.”

A work bee organized by the Twin Butte, Alta., area community was organized Sept. 23-24. More than 300 people showed up Sept. 23 and at least another 150 Sept. 24, said Kathy Flundra, who helped keep track of the many volunteers.

Volunteer Dillon Stevenson stretches wire around a sturdy corner post. | Barb Glen photo

“Yesterday (Sept. 23) we had 306, to be exact, and some did not register. There was a lot of people with heavy equipment that I’m sure didn’t sign in because they had already started and were very busy.

“It’s really amazing, what everybody has done. There’s lots and lots of fence and everybody came and cleaned up all the yard sites. We’ve put in miles and miles of fence already.”

Flundra said volunteers came from all over the Twin Butte and Pincher Creek region, as well as Lethbridge, Claresholm, Milk River and Lethbridge.

Mac McRae was working a post pounder Sept. 24 as he and a crew installed posts south of the Jenkins ranch, which lost homes, outbuildings, corrals and feed in the fire.

Marcia Stahl, left, takes a brief break with other volunteers. | Barb Glen photo

McRae lost property in another nasty wildfire in the Milk River region in 2012. Volunteers came then to help rebuild fence so he returned the favour.

Logan Gertner was thinking of the situation in the Claresholm, Alta., area where he ranches.

“The shoe could be on the other foot tomorrow. It could be our place (that burns.) So we came. We got put on the rolling-up-burned-fence crew.”

The fire ban imposed on much of southern Alberta this summer was also in effect in his area. Little rain has fallen anywhere in the southwest, although there was some snow in higher elevations last week.

Theresa Cassidy was out fencing with a crew Sept. 24 while heavy equipment cleaned up what was left of the home she and her husband, Dave, have owned since 1993.

The wildfire laid waste to snow fence as well as perimeter and cross fencing. | Barb Glen photo

The couple weren’t home when the evacuation order came in the wee hours of Sept. 12, but their son was there and escaped just in time.

“We were told, the word they used was, our place was incinerated. Everything melted inside,” she said.

“We weren’t able to recover much. The blessing is, my son’s alive. In the big picture, the rest is just stuff.”

Hundreds of volunteers helped fence burned ranchland. Most of the posts and wire were donated by area businesses and individuals, as was the heavy equipment and labour. | Barb Glen photo

The Waterton fire continues to burn in parts of the national park and regions to the west. It has been downgraded to “being held” as opposed to “out of control,” and fire crews continue to douse hot spots.

Donations for those affected by the fire are being accepted via the Twin Butte community group at Financial contributions can be made at ATB branches. Other fundraising events are also being planned.

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