Alberta man who saved own property criticizes province’s lack of resources to fight wildfires
Posted May 9, 2023 5:00 pm.
Last Updated May 10, 2023 8:10 am.
It’s not clear what would have happened to Geoffery Lalonde’s home if he hadn’t gone back.
The resident of Shining Bank, Alta., near Whitecourt, was evacuated Friday due to an approaching wildfire.
“The first night the blaze was pretty big,” Lalonde recalled. “It was moving very, very fast, so we didn’t know whose places were lost. The coolness of the evening drowned out the fire quite a bit.”
The next day, still under the evacuation order, Lalonde and some neighbours returned to assess the damage. There were police officers blocking the roads, but he says there were no fire crews anywhere in sight.
“We saw our places were OK, thank God. We lost power. But there were spot fires all over the place, throughout the bush, and nobody was around. And very high winds, those could have flashed up immediately.”
It was the absence of fire-fighting crews that convinced Lalonde and his neighbours to stay and put out those hot spots themselves.
“That was the determining factor, that there was nobody else who was going to fight this fire and put it out,” Lalonde said.
“So basically the whole community gathered up their water totes, and gathered up and started putting out spot fires everywhere.
“We were literally hauling buckets into the bush repetitively.”
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Lalonde is convinced his home would have gone up in flames if it wasn’t for the community coming back and doing the job themselves.
“Basically the fire distance from my house was probably less than 1,000 metres away,” he said. “And if it wasn’t for us getting up early and going back to check the damages, and starting to work the spot fires, the high winds would have definitely flared back up, and would have been out of control again.”
Lack of resources from province?
The Shining Bank man feels a lack of resources at the provincial level made things worse.
“If there had been a bomber picking up water off the Shining Bank Lake, which they’ve done in the past before when they were fighting wildfires last year, they probably could have had the majority of it out within a few hours,” Lalonde estimated.
There was a helicopter designated for the area, Lalonde says, but it could only do so much.
“The chopper, I would assume from the size of it, maybe could only hold a cube or two of water, so we’re talking one or two thousand litres of water at a time,” he said. “He was going non-stop once he was out there, but a bomber would have done the job so much faster and would have saved so many more properties.”
Alberta did receive help from out-of-province wildland firefighters from Ontario and Quebec over the weekend.
But the province was recently criticized for cutting, in 2019, a program of 63 elite firefighters trained specifically to tackle wildfires.
Emergency financial assistance ‘will not help’
Evacuees away from their properties for a total of seven days – not necessarily consecutive – will be eligible for emergency financial assistance.
Eligible adults will receive $1,250 and an additional $500 per dependent child under 18 years. A family of four will receive $3,500.
Lalonde may not be entitled to compensation from the Danielle Smith government, despite losing a freezer full of food, and after spending money on gas and resources to help put out the fires himself.
“I think Danielle Smith definitely could have thought about it a little bit more critically. We’re going to be evacuated for about five days, if the county lets everyone back in tomorrow,” said Lalonde. “But that doesn’t help anybody in the actual affected area where I’m at. We’ve all been evacuated, but only for five days. Yet we’ve all put out these resources, we’ve all lost, and it will not help us whatsoever.
“What I would like to see personally, is if you are in directly affected area, you get the compensation for it.”