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Raging grass fire threatens stores, hospital

Posted on May 5, 2014 by Maple Creek

A grass fire raging north of Swift Current on Thursday came dangerously close to city limits.

The fire broke out just after 5 p.m. on May 1 at the edge of Highway 4 and was quickly fanned southeast towards the city by winds gusting up to 62 kilometres per hour. It scorched a total of 40-50 acres of land.

Fire crews were busy dealing with a fire that had sparked at the landfill by embers from wood being burned there a few weeks ago when they received the call. With the landfill fire just about contained, city workers were left to handle it as firefighters rushed to stop the large grass fire.

They kept it away from two farmyards as the blaze burned closer to the city just north of Memorial Drive. The Swift Current Mall, Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire were all evacuated as a precaution. Cypress Regional Hospital was alerted of the situation and fans were shut down to prevent smoke from being drawn into the building. Staff were prepared to evacuate the facility if necessary.

Rural Municipality of Swift Current Fire Chief Louis Cherpin said there was a risk of the fire jumping the highway in the strong winds, as there were embers blowing 20 feet into the air.

“It was starting spot fires everywhere,” Cherpin said. But he noted grass was greener and kept shorter around the highway.

The fire caught a section of trees and brush before it was stopped about 30 feet from a house on the west side of the new school property.

“If it would’ve got past there, there could’ve been some trouble for sure,” Cherpin said.

Responders included the Swift Current Fire Department, RM of Swift Current Fire Department, Sonic Oilfield Service, Big Eagle Services, farmers and other local residents. The RM brought in graders, and about 20 police officers from the Swift Current RCMP, Swift Current Rural RCMP and Gull Lake RCMP were on scene assisting and setting up road blocks. In total, 50-70 people helped in firefighting efforts.

Because of the difficulty in getting vehicles into the fields, much of the work was done with hand-held equipment.

By about 7:30 p.m. it was reported the fire had been contained, but city firefighters remained on scene putting out hot spots until 8:00 a.m. the following day.

According to Cherpin, the cause of the grass fire was the careless disposal of a cigarette from a passing vehicle.

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