Tips filter in about missing fire spotter
Police say they continue to get leads on the disappearance of forest fire spotter Stephanie Stewart, who was working alone at a remote lookout tower northwest of Hinton, Alta., when she went missing exactly five years ago.
RCMP have been treating the case as a homicide, not an accident or animal attack, and periodically issue calls for tips, which still trickle in.
Stewart, who would be 75 today, was reported missing after she failed to call in as part of her duties as a fire watcher at the Athabasca Lookout Tower, about 25 kilometers from Hinton and east of Jasper National Park. She had last spoken with her family the night before.
Bedding was missing from her home, including two pillows, a burgundy bed sheet and a duvet cover with a Navajo pattern on it. A pot of water was left boiling on the stove.
Stewart had 18 years of experience as a fire spotter and was described as incredibly fit, with no known medical conditions. She usually worked at the tower from April to September, only leaving her post to pick up supplies and mail.
Stewart's disappearance prompted the Alberta government to review safety at its network of 128 lookout towers, which stand like sentinels throughout the province's forests. Each of the 80 drive-to fire lookouts now has gates that restrict access. Other measures include equipping all lookout staff with hand-held radios that have a panic button in case of trouble.
"They've put steel doors and frames on all the cabins, as well as shatterproof glass and/or bars," explained Dennis Malayko, a health and safety representative for the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.
There is also a new training program that all staff, including veterans, must complete.
Malayko said Stewart's disappearance continues to haunt other fire spotters.
"It did have a very, very negative impact upon them," he said. "And they never really ever give thought to humans as much as animals in their environment, you know bears and others. So this really gave them a wakeup call."
A $20,000 reward is being offered for any information leading to an arrest in the Stewart case.