A Red Deer senior says he watched a small fire in a wooded area behind his condo building grow to 10 feet high and 20 feet wide in a matter of minutes.
Chip Cousens and his wife Diane spotted the small campfire in the wooded area behind The Views of St. Joseph building on 61 St. at about 8 p.m Saturday. A handful of camp sites are set up in the area by people experiencing homelessness, Cousens said Monday.
The married couple, who have lived in the building for 10 years, called the fire department and within the five minutes it took for firefighters to arrive, the blaze grew to an alarming size, he said.
“It’s very concerning. It got so big so fast. It could have been even worse if we hadn’t called when we did,” Cousens said, adding a handful of vehicles are parked at the end of the wooded area where the fire was heading.
Cousens said he’s seen fires in that area “very often” over the years.
“They don’t get out of control often, but it only takes one to get out of control to do serious damage,” he said.
Matt White, assistant deputy chief with Red Deer Emergency Services, said given the dry conditions the area has experienced this spring, “we’re really concerned about” fires in wooded areas.
“We’ve had one of the driest years on record and with the snow pack melting as early as it did and no real moisture since, the trees … haven’t budded and there are no leaves on them, so that leaves them in a really vulnerable state for fire,” said White.
It’s “fairly common” to receive calls reporting fires in wooded areas, like the one behind Cousens’ condo building, said White.
“There are a number of reasons fires in those areas start, but usually it’s human caused. We’re really asking the public to be vigilant now more than ever, given the dry conditions, and to avoid camp fires or starting fires in those areas, because they can grow very quickly and endanger nearby properties,” he said.
Stopping the spread and ensuring no one is injured as a result of fires like this weekend’s blaze is the primary goal for firefighters, said White.
“Those (fire) crew will stay on scene as long as they need to, to make sure there are no hot spots because don’t want those fires to rekindle,” he said.
Cousens said in addition to his concerns about fires, he is also is worried about garbage left in the wooded area behind his home – usually by people who are sleeping rough.
“There’s only a certain amount that the police can do. When I phone them, their dispatcher sends somebody over. They come over and issue a paper to people living in there that they’ve got to be out in three days and if they’re not out in three days then they’ll take away their stuff.
“Other than that, I think it’s just up to the city to come up and try to clean that area so it’s not all dead fall on the ground, just waiting for the next fire,” said Cousens.
The City of Red Deer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.