Alana Lemckert, a new resident of Carstairs was busy juggling errands last Friday afternoon, September 2. Between preparing for a family barbeque on the weekend and picking up a few last-minute items for the local dog shelter that is having a silent auction, she was on the phone with her colleague when she noticed something outside her window. 

"In the fields next to me [my house], I noticed this strip of fire. I thought that's bizarre that a farmer would be doing a controlled burn in the harvest season, what the heck is happening?" 

When she observed no one was in the vicinity, intuition nudged her to go outside and see what was really happening. At almost the exact moment that Lemckert was heading outside, several of her neighbours had also ventured out. 

"Unbeknownst to me, one of them [my neighbours] is actually an ex-volunteer firefighter, so they knew exactly what they were going to do. They started digging to try and prevent it [the fire] from getting here, but it started moving quickly," she said. "They hightailed it out of there and next thing you know, I was in the back of my yard as the fire got closer with my garden hose, just trying to soak the fence." 

Within moments more neighbours were milling about, attaching garden hoses together to try and help. While 9-1-1 had already been called and fire crews were on their way, Lemckert said that for at least 10 minutes it was just her and her neighbours battling the blaze, shoulder-to-shoulder. 

"The firemen did get here, but by that time the fire was already whipping against my fence," Lemckert said. "At that point when you feel the heat of the flames on your face, and I could hear my fence burning, I just threw my hose and ran inside because I had to get my dogs out." 

She managed to get her dogs out and into the car, driving them down the street to safety. That's when someone approached her. 

"A random person just looked at me and asked if I was okay and that I looked like I needed a hug. She gave me a hug and it felt like I got people who have my back. I felt so alone because my partner wasn't home. I had to leave my truck there with my dogs in it and I just asked if someone could watch my truck and there was a lady there who said no problem." 

By the time she made it back to her house, her partner had arrived, and more people had hopped the fence into the field where the fire was still burning. For a moment it seemed the fire was no longer threatening the houses.  

"We all took a sigh of relief and then the wind changed direction and it whipped back around and it was coming back at us again. By that point, it was past my house but going towards my neighbours behind me, so everybody shuffled up there. It just picked up so quickly that the firemen said you have to leave and then the police at that point told everybody to evacuate." 

Lemckert had only just recently moved to the Carriage Lane subdivision near Carstairs from British Columbia. She said her entire life was spent living in condominiums, so to have not only a home but a yard for her dogs was truly a dream come true.  

"To be told to leave and you can't even look back...My great neighbour across the street, her parents also live in Carstairs, and we were able to go there with the dogs. We were all sitting there, and none of us really knew. I don't think the gravity of it had really hit us because it was surreal; it was happening, but it wasn't." 

Lemckert's partner would venture onto the highway and try to get a glimpse of what was still burning. 

"He literally saw the police and they asked him to move. He asked if he could stay because that's his house. They said of course, just move off to the side. But we had no idea because the smoke was so thick that you couldn't see what it was burning at one point. You had no idea if it was the houses or if it was the fields." 

She said that perhaps one of the most striking differences between where she lived before and where she lives now is that Carstairs truly embodies what a small town embodies.

"You don't hear about it very much anymore, but small towns do exist and it's not just in the Hallmark movies. I feel very blessed to be able to be here and a resident of Carstairs. I really felt like I had been welcomed with open arms, albeit in a tragic way." 

According to the Carstairs Fire Department, on Friday, September 2, there were three major incidents in the area between 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. 

"The fire south of town burned a large portion of land and being so dry and fueled by winds made this a very stubborn fire to extinguish. Carstairs Fire would also like to thank our mutual aid partners including the fire departments from Crossfield, Cremona, Didsbury, Olds, Madden, Acme, Airdrie, Torrington, and Linden." 

Lemckert said she had only one message for all the first responders. 

"God bless you and may you keep doing what you're doing because whether you know it or not, you are saving lives. They saved my home, they saved so many other people's homes. The way that they acted and the time that they put in. You have to be a pretty special person to volunteer your time to put yourself in danger like that." 

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