Grasslands Fire

by Laureen on May 1, 2013

Abandoned Ranchhouse

This was one of my favourite places. In all seasons I’d walk down the road into the Frenchman River valley and feel at peace. I’d feel at home. Sometimes I’d look at the abandoned and boarded-up old house and think, “I wonder if they’d let just me live here.” No plumbing, no electricity, not possible – but there was something about the way the building nestled into its landscape that always had me dreaming of rest. People had thrived here once. Now the house had become part of the history of this extraordinary place. Protected by the hills, bounded by the river, decorated by a stand of tall caraganas, it was a place I loved.

Syrenne place

This Saturday at noon, the village fire siren went off. By late that night a wildfire had burned 15,000 acres in a swath from one to five kilometers in width and 20 kilometers long. It started west of highway 4 just south of Val Marie, leapt roads and rivers, and cut a frighteningly wide swath along the Frenchman valley far into Grasslands National Park. By late Saturday, approximately 200 people, including firefighters from four national parks, Cypress Hills Provincial Park, and the City of Swift Current, as well as many, many local people,  battled it. With relative humidity at a bone dry 16%, the ground covered with winter-dense and dormant grasses and vegetation, and winds gusting from 40 to 80 kilometers well into the night, fireballs leapt into the air and walls of flame burned at impossible rates, threatening not only the park but the homes and livelihood of everyone nearby.


In the end, no human lives or homes or agricultural land or animals were lost. The bison appear OK. The landscape of prairie dog towns and black footed ferrets burned, and anything that couldn’t run away – porcupines, nesting birds, badgers, coyotes, foxes – may not have escaped. So far there’s no way to know.


This afternoon I walked into that burned landscape. Even the shapes of the hills seem to have changed. The old house is gone and its site ringed by yellow plastic hazard tape. There was nothing there I recognized. Instead of peace, there was only displacement and loss.

Except for the caraganas. Somehow, miraculously, they were spared. There are a few tiny blades of green grass sprouting at the edge of the burn. And there’s one old porcupine waddling along the blackened river valley. Maybe, like me, he’s wondering where everything familiar went. But he’s making his way.


Sometime later, I’ll come back. Maybe the porcupine will join me.

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Know someone who would enjoy seeing this? Please feel free to share!

The blog is a series of posts from one artist/art gallery owner’s life in her community in one of Canada’s most beautiful and remote wilderness regions. I hope you will find yourself and your spirit reflected in it.


Fiona Woods May 2, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Oh my god, that’s heartbreaking.

They say that fire is a great restorative power for landscape, but I doubt if that’s much comfort to you under the circumstances. There is a terrible beauty to your photos.

So sad for you Laureen.

Fiona x

Rena Reid May 2, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Thank you and I am sorry the place you loved is no more.We know the grass will come again,even greener than before.Hopefully, the animals found refuge in burrows and caves. Keep us posted.

Miriam May 2, 2013 at 5:48 pm

I appreciate your despair upon seeing the devastation from a wild fire. It can destroy all beauty in it’s path and leave an imprint in your memory forever. I have seen this in so many northern Alberta communities. A year later I revisited one of these burnt out communities and was excited to see fresh new life appear. Greener than ever; I felt I had to capture this rebirth on canvas. Thus I stated a painting ,first with the black landscape but quickly the lush green colors of new grow seemed to take over. To my surprise when I completed my painting, a green glow glazed its way through the once blackened landscape. Now, new lush green life replaces my past memory.

Laureen May 2, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Thank you my dear. Very much appreciated!

Laureen May 2, 2013 at 6:31 pm

We hope for the survival of all! Thank you.

Laureen May 2, 2013 at 6:31 pm

I look forward to that! Thanks.

Diane May 2, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Glad to hear you folks are okay.

Norine May 2, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Amazing on all counts. Also oddly ironic that the caraganas were spared, considering that they are also an introduced species.

i want to give that sturdy porcupine a hug somehow, and tell him/her it will all be ok. Not appropriate, obviously, but indicative of the emotion. We can only hope that all burrowing holes were in full use.

Glad you and everyone else are safe. Take care.

Laureen May 2, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Diane, thanks. Much appreciated.

Laureen May 2, 2013 at 7:39 pm

I was so glad to see him! Thanks, Norine.

Kimberley May 3, 2013 at 8:21 am

I was “watching” the fire from the east….all I could see was smoke and it is scary not knowing how far away the fire is and if there was any farms or ranches in the line! I live a few km north of the east block of the Grasslands. It is very sad that the old house burned….there isn’t many old buildings standing anymore and they are all so special! Come late spring into summer all of that burnt grass will (hopefully) be a sea of green fresh grass and beauty will return!

Laureen May 3, 2013 at 8:27 am

It’s amazing you could see the smoke from that far. I bet it was scary. Let’s hope that the green comes back soon! And thanks so much for commenting.

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