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Alberta rancher, advocate James Hargrave, 34

WSGA vice-president dies in crash during wildfire firefighting effort

James Hargrave (second from right) in September 2016 with provincial Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier, Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips.
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A leader in southern Alberta’s cattle ranching community died in a vehicle crash while helping fight wildfires along the Alberta/Saskatchewan border on Tuesday night.

Cypress County officials have identified the firefighter as James Hargrave, 34, a volunteer with the fire station at Walsh, Alta., about 50 km east of Medicine Hat.

Alberta’s Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier on Twitter Wednesday identified Hargrave as the rancher who, as chairman of the Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association, toured the minister and other provincial MLAs around his family’s ranch last fall.

Hargrave was also first vice-president of the Western Stock Growers Association, an Alberta ranchers’ advocacy group focused on free-market policies for livestock marketing and production and on environmental protection through range management practices.

Hargrave “was community-minded and joined the fire services to help and protect residents far and near,” Cypress County officials said in a statement.

“James’ love of Alberta was infectious and his priority was always to protect the land for the benefit of the community and future generations,” Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner said in a separate statement Wednesday. “He died as he lived, responding to the needs of his neighbours and his community.”

According to Lee Hart of Grainews, Hargrave managed a 50,000-acre operation spread over two ranches assembled by his great-grandfather, starting in 1888, and by his grandfather Bert, who also served in the House of Commons as the MP for Medicine Hat from 1972 to 1984 and passed away in 1996.

James Hargrave had lost his father Harry in a farm accident in 1996, his mother in 1989 and his sister following a riding accident in 2007, Hart noted in a 2009 blog post.

According to Redcliff RCMP on Wednesday, Hargrave and other volunteers were fighting a fire that ignited Tuesday in Cypress County near Township Road 180, about five miles west of Highway 41, and that spread eastward quickly on “high winds and dry fuels.”

Firefighters and RCMP evacuated the Alberta communities of Hilda and Schuler as the fire moved eastward into Saskatchewan, where Cypress County volunteers helped local counterparts fight the fire near the communities of Leader and Burstall, Sask.

During those firefighting efforts, a collision occurred between a water truck and a pickup truck, in which Hargrave — later identified as the lone occupant of the water truck — died at the scene, according to Redcliff RCMP.

“This tragic loss of life speaks to the danger that this emergency posed and also to the heroism of the volunteers who sacrifice in service of their neighbours,” RCMP said.

Homes destroyed in fires

Alberta’s Emergency Alert system cancelled the wildfire alert for Cypress County just after 1 p.m. Wednesday, reporting the “fire is out.” According to RCMP, four homes in rural Cypress County were lost to the fire.

Wildfire damage in the region Tuesday and Wednesday also included three houses destroyed on the Siksika First Nation, while a fourth had its roof blown off by “extreme winds.”

Two homes in Wheatland County were impacted by fires, along with one home and “several other small structures” at Moon River and three residences in Rockyview County, one of which was “totally destroyed,” RCMP said.

Three rail cars on a Canadian Pacific Railway line near the Agrium plant at Carseland also caught fire Tuesday evening, spreading to surrounding dry grass. Residents near that fire were evacuated to Strathmore and the fire was later contained.

Late Tuesday afternoon, “extreme winds” also blew 28 rail cars, carrying 56 freight containers, off Canadian National Railway track just south of Huxley, Alta.

According to Three Hills RCMP, no hazardous materials were spilled and no one was injured, but nearby rural residences were evacuated for about three hours as a precaution. CN staff have since recovered the rail cars and containers.

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