September 20th, 2021

Buffalo Jump centre escapes damage in grass fire


By Herald on August 5, 2021.

Bystanders try to help contain a grass fire as it scorches the earth surrounding the interpretive centre Thursday at the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site. Photo by Vicki Scherban

Dale Woodard – Lethbridge Herald

A trio of quick-acting bystanders kept a grass fire at bay following an incident at the Head-Smashed-in-Buffalo-Jump World Heritage Site west of Fort Macleod Thursday.

There was no structure damage in the fire and no injuries as emergency crews remained on the scene Thursday afternoon.

“It’s basically buried in the hill,” said Fort Macleod fire chief Allen Zoeteman of the building. “So the fire went over top of part of it, but it didn’t hurt the structure at all and nothing inside was damaged. It was just grass and brush that was lost.”

But some swift reaction from Noel Burles, his wife Vicki Scherban and another bystander kept the fire contained until fire crews arrived.

“My husband and another fellow went into the fire with fire extinguishers to try and hold it back until the fire department got there,” said Scherban.

Burles said they noticed the fire at around 12:15 p.m.

“We were down at the bottom talking to some archeologists doing a dig there,” he said, adding he suspects some maintenance equipment may have started the fire. “We looked up and there was smoke and it was black. I said that’s a mechanical fire or something. It died down and then it turned to grey and I said ‘We’ve got a grass fire.’”

Burles said as he and his wife hiked up from the bottom of the hill the flames were moving off to the north.

“A fellow came up with three fire extinguishers. I said ‘Give me one of those,’ and we climbed up the hill, it was a pretty good hike. I said ‘You take this end and I’ll take the other end.’ I knocked the fire down where I was standing and then jumped to the front.”

While there were no injuries, there was almost one.

“My pants caught on fire for a second or two, but I put that out,” said Burles. “We didn’t have enough fire extinguisher to stop it, but we really surpressed it with the other fellow and I thank him very much. We knocked it down to at least allow the fire department to get there before it became a runaway.”

Burles thanked Fort Macleod emergency services for their quick arrival and taking over the situation.

“They got there quick and it’s a long way out,” he said. “It takes times. How long we surpressed the fire, I don’t know. But we did contain it to a degree.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, however, the initial investigation suggests it is not suspicious in nature.

“The fire is under control,” said Zoeteman, adding roughly 10 acres burned on the side of the hill of Buffalo Jump itself. “We’re just working on hot spots right now and making sure we don’t have any rekindle.”

Traffic in the area resumed normally after the fire.

“There was a little traffic problem at the start, but it hasn’t been issue,” said Zoeteman.

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