Close call at the beach: fire blows up by Devonshire

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

“It came right up to the road,” says Ken Carpenter of Devonshire Lane.

Carpenter is speaking of a wildfire that broke out on the evening of May 21, while he was at a town council meeting.

The fire flared up in the small conifer forest between the highway and the beach road, where Carpenter and several other people have their homes. It was attacked quickly and effectively by air tankers and helicopters with buckets, and a large group of municipal and wildland firefighters pitched in to help save the structures.

“What a great group of volunteers we have,” says Carpenter. “They are really professional.”

It was a close call. The southeast wind was blowing embers from the trees towards the homes, which could have been disastrous.

“There’s holes in the umbrellas on the deck,” Carpenter says. ‘(Burnt) pine needles all the way down to the beach.”

Nobody who was in or around Slave Lake in 2011 needs reminding about what airborne embers can do in the right kind of conditions. Those conditions were in full force in northern Alberta all of last week. All that was needed was a spark. The one that set off the Devonshire Beach fire was definitely not provided by lighting – leaving a human source as the only option. Accidental or deliberate is the big question investigators were facing last week. It often goes unanswered.

It’s not the first time a fire has occurred in roughly that spot. Carpenter said there was one a couple of years ago, and a box of matches was found near the ignition site.

Deputy fire chief Alex Pavcek says three halls responded to the fire and concentrated on wetting down the “defendable space” from Devonshire Lane until the air tankers showed up a few minutes later. They were able to knock down the flames and then the ground forces moved back in and commenced spraying again.

The wind from the southeast – which had been quite strong at the start of the fire, had dropped by about half in the first half hour, Pavcek says, “which helped.”

The Devonshire Beach fire, shortly after it started. Photo courtesy Alberta Ag. & Forestry. No official word on its cause, but it was certainly via human agency.

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