By Marcia Love
A massive communications failure left residents of the Southwest out of touch with the rest of the world Wednesday after an early morning blaze took down a fiber optics line at Gull Lake.
The fire knocked out cell and Internet services from Gull Lake all the way to the Alberta border, extending as far south as Consul and as far north as Fox Valley and Richmound. Only local calls could be made on landlines.
The blaze broke out at about 3:30 a.m. at a garage at 663 First Avenue owned by Tracy Trapp. Responders reported the fire appeared to have originated in the back of the building near a deep freeze.
The Gull Lake Fire Department worked through the night and into the morning to contain it, but the fire knocked down the fiber optics line which ran right above the garage. The line running above the garage was a small section that was not fed underground, severing communication for the majority of the Southwest.
The outage had a major impact on emergency services as no 9-1-1 calls could be made. In Maple Creek, the RCMP detachment was in charge of receiving emergency calls and re-routing them to the appropriate location through its radio system.
The unprecedented loss of service had a major impact on operations throughout the area. A number of businesses were forced to shut down their operations as no electronic transactions could be completed.
At the Pioneer Co-op grocery store, customers were forced to step back in time and pay by cash or cheque.
“Nobody has cash because we’re so used to debit,” said manager Sherry Sustrate, noting this meant a very slow business day.
With the Internet down and no way of making a long-distance phone call, she was unable to place her order for the week.
“It’s my deadline, and it’s the warehouse promo that I’m doing,” she stated, adding she couldn’t even contact the head office to explain the hold up. “Wednesdays are drastic.”
A SaskTel crew was on scene in Gull Lake at 4 a.m. and worked throughout the day on the tedious task of restoring service. With seven vehicles on site, they worked through high winds.
Services were up and running in Gull Lake first yesterday afternoon, while outlying areas were restored at about 4 p.m. – just over 12 hours after they were cut off.