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Work on tracks sparks grass fire

Posted on August 20, 2015 by Maple Creek
A CP Rail worker uses a grinder on a section of track near Hatton as the land around smolders on Friday afternoon. The dry grass caught fire due to sparks from the work being done, burning over 100 acres. Photo courtesy Marilyn Phaff

By Marcia Love
The dry conditions were there and it could have been a lot worse when a grass fire broke out along the CP Rail tracks in the Hatton Hills on Friday. Local landowners are now calling for the company to be more cautious and responsible when it comes to preventing fires.
The fire started just after 4 p.m. about 30 kilometres west of Maple Creek near Hatton, where CPR workers were grinding and welding a section of track. It spread from the right-of-way to Shawn and Michelle Kramer’s land.
In total, the grass fire burned 106 acres of the Kramer’s land and about 10 acres along the right-of-way. It travelled nearly half a mile, reaching the Hatton road.
Firefighters responded with both the Maple Creek and RM of Maple Creek fire trucks, and local area farmers and ranchers attended with their water trucks.
Volunteers remained on scene until about 11:30 p.m. to ensure it was completely out.
“We had a lot of hot spots on the CPR right-of-way,” said RM of Maple Creek Fire Chief Jack Zieffle.
Landowners are now asking why CP was doing the work in such dry conditions and why more precautions weren’t taken.
CP Rail reported it is very concerned about the potential for grass fires in the communities through which it operates.
“We realize the seriousness of any grass fire, which is why our crews work closely with local fire departments and other emergency responders to contain and extinguish fires as quickly and safe as possible,” stated CP Rail spokesperson Jeremy Berry.
According to CP Rail, crews had the required equipment on hand, the necessary training and followed company protocols during the incident. The company did not state what type of firefighting equipment workers had with them.
However, landowners in the area were very disappointed with how the company reacted. They said CP Rail had no water truck on site while working in the tinder-dry conditions – and kept working while the fire burned.
The workers were reported to have attempted to put out the fire with an extinguisher but were unsuccessful.
A local CP Rail representative was contacted and arrived at the location of the fire and spoke with landowners that night.
A full investigation is underway and “we will continue to work with our crews to ensure the best response possible moving forward,” CP Rail stated. “We appreciate the support and quick response of the local fire department and neighbouring farmers.”
The fire chief would like to see CP Rail more prepared to deal with fires – especially while working in very dry conditions.
He noted it is extremely challenging for volunteers to reach fires along the right-of-way.
“There’s a lot of grass in those right-of-ways, and the right-of-ways are impossible to get down (in with a truck),” he said. “We can’t get down them, we can’t turn around on them, it just makes firefighting very difficult.”
Landowners in the Hatton Hills have been leery of grass fires caused by CP Rail since a prairie fire sparked by a passing train scorched 70 square kilometres on March 13, 2012, affecting 12 landowners.
Despite the lack of rain, Zieffle said there haven’t been very many grass fires in the area this year – one in the spring that wasn’t even half an acre and another about three weeks ago that burned about two acres.
But with the dry conditions continuing, farmers and ranchers in the area are wary they haven’t seen the last of the fires.

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