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Damage from wildfires has topped $2-million

Two MD of Willow Creek wildfires in January caused more than $2.16-million in damage.
The fires at Fort Macleod and Nanton cost more than $160,000 to fight ratepayers also learned Wednesday at the MD of Willow Creek open house.
“We had two serious fires 50 miles apart,” MD of Willow Creek chief administrative officer Cynthia Vizzutti said. “It’s a day that will live in infamy.”
Emergency services director Travis Coleman said the fire northwest of Fort Macleod started at 11:58 a.m. Jan. 4 when 120 km-h winds ignited ashes from a wood-burning stove that were stored in a lean-to shed.
By the time the fire was stopped and the emergency operations centre closed at 9 p.m. the same day, it had consumed 2,000 acres and numerous structures over a stretch of about six miles.
Fire crews from the MD of Willow Creek, Fort Macleod, Claresholm, Stavely, Nanton, Pincher Creek and Lethbridge, as well as area residents battled the blaze.
“The first priority was to protect all the houses,” Coleman said, noting that was accomplished.
Coleman told ratepayers the Fort Macleod fire cause more than $1-million in property losses.
Firefighting costs totalled $84,146.
About one hour after that fire started, downed power lines ignited another blaze at Nanton.
By the time that fire was contained at 10 p.m. that same day it had burned 3,000 acres and had caused $1.16-million in property losses, including four houses and some livestock.
Fire departments from Nanton, Cayley, Okotoks, High River, Champion, Blackie and Vulcan joined the battle.
Firefighting costs totalled $77,836.
Dianne Wilson, who lives in the Nanton district, expressed concern that some people were prevented from assisting the firefighting effort.
Wilson had a truck with a full load of water when she was stopped and turned away. Her knowledge of local roads allowed Wilson to find another way to get the water to a neighbour’s place.
Wilson also saw another ratepayer attempting to deliver heavy equipment to fight the fire stopped by the RCMP.
“That was very frustrating,” Wilson said.
Coleman said he received similar complaints that citizens had been frustrated in their attempts to help fight the fire.
Coleman explained that it was necessary to have the local roads closed while people were being evacuated from their property. The RCMP acted on that request.
The MD of Willow Creek is working with the RCMP to improve communications so people willing to fight the fire are allowed to do so, in a co-ordinated manner.
“While we want that kind of response, that has to be done from a central staging area,” Vizzutti said.
In future citizens who want to assist will be deployed safely and strategically.
Vizzutti stressed the MD of Willow Creek can’t let people put themselves at risk during such major fires.
“Neither one of those fires would have gotten out without the help of our ratepayers,” Vizzutti said.