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Groundfire in County of St. Paul contained as crews continue to work

Twenty four Alberta Forestry wildland firefighters are helping to fight a wildfire that is burning above and below ground in the County of St. Paul.

On April 20 at around 11:30 a.m., a fire that burned into muskeg was reported in St. Paul County, located almost 200 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. 

Multiple fire crews responded to the area, including Ashmont, Mallaig, and the St. Paul Fire Department. 

“[The fire] was certainly one of the largest fires many of our firefighters have ever seen due to intensity, size, and how fast it moved,” says St. Paul Fire Chief Trevor Kotowich, speaking with Lakeland Today on May 1.

“The problem with this fire is that it’s a very deep-seated fire,” explains Kotowich, adding there is peat moss in the area and a lot of ash pits. This means "the fire’s burning down into the ground.” 

According to Kotowich, the fire could burn up to 10 or 15 feet underneath the surface. “It’s crazy.” 

And because it’s such a deep-seated fire, “It goes beyond our capabilities as municipal fire departments,” says Kotowich. “We do not have the equipment or manpower to be able to battle this fire to fully extinguish it.” 

The County of St. Paul reached out to Alberta Wildfire, via a Mutual Aid Agreement with Alberta Forestry, to help deal with the fire. 

On April 27, three eight-person wildland fire teams arrived. Alongside the County’s Public Works staff and equipment, crews have been working to extinguish the fire ever since. 

As of May 1, Kotowich says the fire is contained to approximately 100-hectares and there is no risk to the public. It is not spreading as it did before.

This is, in part, thanks to rain the region received early in the week.

“Certainly, advancements have been made, and we reassess every day,” says Kotowich, adding they are expecting the fire should die by the end of the week. Over 600-hours of firefighter time has been used so far as firefighters work in a 24-hour rotations.

The biggest concern is if the fire isn’t dealt with immediately, “We will be dealing with this fire for years to come,” says Kotowich. It could also potentially accelerate into another wildfire if not addressed properly.

But, “Things are looking really, really good,” according to Kotowich.

The situation will be updated as Lakeland This Week receives more information. 

Mario Cabradilla

About the Author: Mario Cabradilla

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