Grassfire near railway tracks under investigation by CP, Calgary Fire Department

Questions are being raised about the cause of a grassfire near Edworthy Park on Tuesday that ignited near railway tracks after witnesses saw a passing train.

The Calgary Fire Department (CFD) was called to a grassy and wooded area near the CP railway tracks west of Edworthy Park before 5:00 p.m. that afternoon, initially believing there were multiple grass fire sites, but crews learned the winds fanned the flames to create one large grassfire.

Crews doused the fire using off road fire vehicles and after several hours of fire fighting.

Hudson Grace sent CTV News a video of flames and smoke spreading across the ground — it was taken from Shouldice Park with a view through a clearing across the Bow River the southwest.

Grace said he saw a train go past at approximately 4:40 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon right before the fire started.

No injuries or property damage has been reported.

DRY WEATHER INCREASES FIRE RISK

The fire department said Calgary’s warm dry weather in recent weeks increased the risk of fire which originated near CP railway tracks.

“When it’s dry like this and it hasn’t greened up yet and you’ve got all those dried grasses, leaves that can ignite very easily in the right conditions. Then when you have windy conditions which we do experience regularly here in Calgary, (grassfires) can travel very quickly and create a dangerous situation for communities,” said Carol Henke, public information officer for the Calgary Fire Department.

Henke did not confirm the train is the cause of the grassfire as the investigation is ongoing, and any witnesses are asked to send video or images to help fire investigators.

In a statement to CTV News, spokesperson Salem Woodrow says, “CP was alerted to a fire along its right of way at approximately 5 p.m. on April 5. CP appreciated the quick action of the Calgary Fire Department. The incident remains under investigation.”

WILDFIRE SEASON STARTING EARLIER, LASTING LONGER

Train wheels can cause sparks while turning over rail lines and this can cause wildfires.

One environmental science professor says the wildfire season in western Canada is starting earlier and lasting longer.

“If we were to look at the patterns over time, we might not see this particular event pinpointed to climate change, we might see the scope and length of the season being relevant,” said Mount Royal University earth sciences professor Gwen O’Sullivan.

O’Sullivan also does work in wildfire forensics in Calgary and throughout Alberta, and says the causes of wildfires are about conditions that are primed for a fire to happen.

“(Grassfires and wildfires) typically need dry material, an oxygen supply and an ignition source. Depending on when those are available or not and in this case we’ve had such a low moisture in the soil on the ground for a couple of weeks now, those kind of conditions are primed for fires like this.”

She said investigators are likely looking for evidence of activities that causes a spark and will match that with other findings including timelines and burn patterns.

Passersby say they find an April grassfire unusual.

“We have really  not had as much snow and precipitation,” said Debbie Black.

“It’s drier than usual but it doesn’t surprise me that we had a grassfire. I’m actually surprised that we haven’t had more,” said Kevin Watson.

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