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Southeast Alberta fires leave 'blank, black slate' over farmers' fields

Fires in southeastern Alberta have burned several farmers' fields, keeping firefighters busy this weekend.

Two blazes still burning, but no longer threatening homes

A wildfire burns in Cypress County. (James Young/CBC)

Fires in southeastern Alberta have burned several farmers' fields, keeping firefighters busy this weekend.

Cypress County firefighters have fought three separate blazes, one of which was extinguished by Sunday morning.

The fires no longer threaten homes, but several farmers lost pasture, crops and agriculture buildings.

"All the fence lines in this area are non-existent now," county emergency management director Kim Dalton said. "It's just a blank, black slate."

Two separate fires are still burning, but under control.

The landscape is proving to be challenging, as the flames have been trapped in hard-to-reach coulees, Dalton said. High winds that could fan flames are predicted for later Sunday afternoon.

A local state of emergency was declared for the county on Saturday, and will remain in place for the next week, he said.

The fires are expected to burn another two weeks, due to the topographical issues.

On Saturday, the residents of five homes directly in the path of the flames were told to evacuate. Since then, conditions have improved, so they were able to return home.

"The fire threat is still extreme due to the increased wind velocity that's supposed to happen this afternoon," Dalton said.

One fire, now 2,400 hectares, started Wednesday near Suffield when a semi-trailer crashed and sparked. The second, near the hamlet of Walsh, started from a lightning strike and continues to burn roughly 2,800 hectares, Dalton said.

"The threat has decreased because there's no fire that's burning out of control, but we have some firefighter fatigue because ... they've been fighting fires for basically a week," he said. "We'll have to coordinate with our resources and make sure that we're ready for the next one."

Firefighters in the region have been busy all month, he said.

To help, farmers and landowners have been enlisted to watch for smoke and sparks.

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes said he'd like to see better water storage and support equipment for emergency crews in the area, including funding for local air ambulance HALO.

"I don't want to forget about the personal risks these farmers and ranchers take," Barnes said. 

"Keep our farmers and ranchers top of mind. The financial risks they have, but also, look at the personal risks when a fire like this can overcome because of the winds and dryness in just a few minutes."

He said he plans to ask the provincial government for assistance for his constituents. 

With files from Helen Pike

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