Dry, windy conditions aid fires

Amid dry conditions and high winds, a series of grass and brush fires sparked across Central Alberta on Monday.

A Bettenson’s Sand and Gravel Caterpillar moves past burning straw bales to help fight the Blindman River valley blaze Monday: high winds had Central Alberta firefighters racing to contain many blazes.

A Bettenson’s Sand and Gravel Caterpillar moves past burning straw bales to help fight the Blindman River valley blaze Monday: high winds had Central Alberta firefighters racing to contain many blazes.

Amid dry conditions and high winds, a series of grass and brush fires sparked across Central Alberta on Monday.

A grass and brush fire west of Highway 2 in the Blindman River valley had the Lacombe Fire Department replacing their firefighters for fear of exhaustion in battling the blaze. The fire, estimated to stretch over an area 2 1/2 kilometres by 1 1/2 kilometres, was pushed along by the high winds in the valley, caught hay bales and created some thick smoke over the highway.

Lacombe fire chief Daryl Friesen said shortly before 8 p.m. that his department had been out battling the blaze “going on four hours,” and he expected firefighters would continue their work on the scene putting out hot spots. He said the high winds and hilly terrain made the job a difficult one.

Heavy equipment operators were brought in to knock the hay bales down and break them up.

“Because of their very nature, they have air gaps in them. When you stack them together, a fire can run through and be hidden in spaces you don’t expect,” explained Friesen.

The fire was eventually brought under control, barring the wind picking up again and starting it anew, he said.

Four trucks and 25 to 30 firefighters responded from Lacombe, with additional resources coming from Blackfalds.

There were also reports of grass fires in the Innisfail-Bowden area and near Clive.

The Red Deer County Fire Department had responded to one grass fire by 6:30 p.m. Assistant chief Tom Metzger said the hillside fire at Poplar Ridge “wasn’t that bad” and burned an area roughly three-by-six metres in size.

Metzger said they were called out at about 4:20 p.m. and had the fire by the side of the road under control in about 10 minutes. He said the cause was undetermined, and that while the high winds would have been a factor in other incidents, their fire was in an area sheltered from the wind.

Red Deer County issued a fire ban Monday afternoon due to “dry, windy conditions,” according to a news release.

Elsewhere in the province, emergency crews are battling several grassfires burning in and around Calgary.

The largest is just east of the city at Highway 761 and the Trans-Canada Highway.

Firefighters from both Calgary and nearby Chestemere have been called out.

There had been some concern about power poles catching on fire but officials now say the blaze has been brought under control.

There is also a fire approximately one and half kilometres east of 84 Street and Glenmore Trail southeast, and another fire at Highway 22X near Deerfoot Trail southeast.

The three fires broke out within an hour of each other and were fanned by brisk winds.

At one point, one home was threatened but it is no longer considered at risk.

Fire officials say it’s been a dry season so far and things could get worse if drought conditions set in.

mgauk@bprda.wpengine.com